I work on Low Carbon Innovation


Gregory Nemet is a Professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the La Follette School of Public Affairs.  He teaches courses in energy systems analysis, policy analysis, and international environmental policy.  Nemet's research focuses on understanding the process of technological change and the ways in which public policy can affect it.  He received his doctorate in energy and resources from the University of California, Berkeley. His A.B. is in geography and economics from Dartmouth College.  He received an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship in 2017 and used it to write a book on how solar PV provides a model for low carbon innovation.



A Model for Low-Carbon Innovation 


As a 2017 Andrew Carnegie Fellow, I have had the opportunity to dive deeply into the question of how solar became cheap, drawing on new data sets, analyses, and a growing literature.  The fellowship enabled me to conduct extended interviews with approximately 70 individuals in 18 countries.  The concept of National Innovation Systems provides a theoretical structure for this assessment and helps explain that PV’s success has been the result of distinct contributions mainly by the US, Japan, Germany, Australia, and China—in that sequence. Flows of knowledge from one country to another—often embodied in equipment, and also as tacit knowledge in the heads of internationally mobile individuals—have been central to solar’s progress. 

HWBC_Book Cover.jpg

How Solar Became Cheap is now available from Routledge!

How did solar become inexpensive?  

And why did it take so long?

This research convinced me that the payoff from understanding the reasons for solar’s success is not just in taking full advantage of its potential, but in learning how to support other low-carbon technologies with analogous properties.  They can benefit from solar’s drivers: scientific understanding of a phenomenon,  evolving R&D foci, iterative upscaling, learning by doing, knowledge spillovers, modular scale, policy-independent niche markets, robust policy support, and delayed system integration challenges.

However, other technologies would have to progress much faster than PV to be helpful for climate change.  The capstone of this project is a set of nine innovation accelerators—actions that would have sped the development of PV and which could be applied to new low-carbon technologies that fit the solar model.  These accelerators include: 1) continuous R&D, 2) public procurement, 3) trained workforce, 4) codify knowledge, 5) disruptive production, 6) robust markets, 7) knowledge spillovers, 8) global mobility, and 9) political economy.  My perspective is that committed government action in multiple jurisdictions can enhance each of these nine innovation accelerators and stimulate improvement in and adoption of the broad set of technologies we will need to address climate change.


Meeting ambitious climate change targets such as the Paris Agreement will likely require removing gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year.  In this project, we estimate the costs, removal potential, and pathways to scale up for a broad set of negative emissions technologies.

This project is focused on understanding the fundamental relationships between learn-by-doing (LBD) knowledge spillovers in the solar industry and solar soft costs.  We explore the ways in which this understanding informs practical strategies to leverage knowledge spillovers to reduce future soft costs.


Climate policy necessarily involves long term targets, which provide incentives for near term investment in low-carbon technology.  What if investors don't fully believe that those targets will be met?  This project looks at how policy can be designed to enhance long-term credibility.



I teach courses in energy systems analysis, policy analysis, and international environmental policy.  My teaching supports the curricula of two programs in the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:

Courses I teach regularly include:


Heightened concern about both the availability of energy resources and their environmental impacts has increased demand for leaders and analysts who can navigate the political, economic, scientific, and technological dimensions of these issues to inform critical policy decisions. Few are able to do so; and those who can provide valuable insight. 

In this course, you will develop an understanding of the dynamics of the global energy system, focusing on ways that public policy can enact these changes in societally beneficial directions. The perspective taken is that of a policy maker confronting decisions about the design and implementation of energy policy.


This course provides an introduction to the study of public policy and the professional practice of policy analysis with a focus on international policy issues. We consider a number of fundamental questions:

  • What are the rationales for collective interference in private affairs?

  • What are the limitations to collective action?

  • What are the generic instruments of public policy?

  • How can we measure social costs and benefits?

  • What are the appropriate roles for policy analysts in democratic societies?

The course seeks to improve basic skills in analytical thinking, information gathering, and writing as we attempt to answer these questions.  [Recent syllabus]


Students will become familiar with the breadth of environmental problems at stake and the history of attempts to solve them. After covering the basic frameworks, institutions and actors, the second half of the course will examine the details of policy design using case studies. We will spend four weeks studying a prominent contemporary international environmental issue, climate change. While no scientific background is needed for the class, each topic will include a review of the basic physical processes involved, taking the perspective that these characteristics affect the appropriateness of policy responses. [Recent syllabus]


The faculty in the Energy Analysis and Policy program hold a 1-credit lunchtime seminar in the Fall semester.  Topic have included:

  • The use of models in energy analysis

  • Communicating energy analysis

  • Professional skills in energy analysis





©2019 by Gregory Nemet