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Power after Carbon

Building a Clean, Resilient Grid

Peter Fox-Penner

As the damaging and costly impacts of climate change increase, the rapid development of sustainable energy has taken on great urgency. The electricity industry has responded with necessary but wrenching shifts toward renewables, even as it faces unprecedented challenges and disruption brought on by new technologies, new competitors, and policy changes. The result is a collision course between a grid that must provide abundant, secure, flexible, and affordable power, and an industry facing enormous demands for power and rapid, systemic change.

The fashionable solution is to think small: smart buildings, small-scale renewables, and locally distributed green energy. But Peter Fox-Penner makes clear that these will not be enough to meet our increasing needs for electricity. He points instead to the indispensability of large power systems, battery storage, and scalable carbon-free power technologies, along with the grids and markets that will integrate them. The electric power industry and its regulators will have to provide all of these, even as they grapple with changing business models for local electric utilities, political instability, and technological change. Power after Carbon makes sense of all the moving parts, providing actionable recommendations for anyone involved with or relying on the electric power system.

Peter Fox-Penner is Director of Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy and Professor in BU’s Questrom School of Business, Chief Strategy Officer for Energy Impact Partners, and an advisor and former chairman of the Brattle Group. He previously served as a senior official in the U.S. Department of Energy and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. His published works include the widely acclaimed Smart Power.


Power after Carbon calls to attention the dramatic changes in the electric power sector over the last decade. Fox-Penner leads us on a serious exploration of the various technologies, fuels, and system designs that transcend easy fixes to today’s challenges and opportunities: the drive for net zero carbon emissions; the rise of wind and solar; and the emphasis on both reliability and resilience.”—Ernest Moniz, former US Secretary of Energy

“In Power after Carbon, Fox-Penner uses his options framework to address the energy industry’s advances over the last decade. This excellent book will be particularly valuable to industry leaders, policymakers, and other stakeholders as we design the paths forward for our companies, and the customers and communities we serve.” —Robert Rowe, President and CEO, Northwestern Energy

“Peter Fox-Penner is among the world’s most respected and admired electricity experts—deeply informed, astute, wise, and balanced. This clear and engaging distillation of his insights will enlighten and stimulate readers in all sectors and at all levels.” —Amory B. Lovins, Cofounder and Chairman Emeritus, Rocky Mountain Institute

“Clearly written, assiduously researched, and never fantastical, Power after Carbon is a delight-filled primer for how to overhaul our electricity grid for the twenty-first century. If Fox-Penner can imagine and explain a carbon free system, then surely we can conceive of a way to build it!” —Gretchen Bakke, author of The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future

“If you’re serious about climate policy, read this book.” —Joseph Romm, author of Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know

(More raves for Power After Carbon)

Praise for Smart Power (2010; rev. ed. 2014)

“A valuable and insightful analysis of where the U.S. electric power industry is headed and what it must do to successfully transition to a low carbon environment. This book should be required reading for all industry regulators as they prepare to confront the challenges of this new paradigm.” —Mark Crisson, Chief Executive Officer of the American Public Power Association

“Few economist/engineers understand the electricity system as well as Peter Fox-Penner, and far fewer can explain it as lucidly. Whether or not you agree with every detail, his vision of the opportunities, risks, uncertainties, and tipping-points of this vast and crucial industry is powerful and provocative.” —Amory B. Lovins

“A thoughtful vision of the opportunities for the electric power industry to make use of new organizational and regulatory frameworks and new technologies so that it can successfully adapt to climate change, energy security and economic efficiency challenges.” —Paul Joskow, President, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

“If you’re serious about policies that place energy efficiency on a level playing field with new energy supplies, and energy policy generally, this book is essential reading.” —Art Rosenfeld, former Commissioner, California Energy Commission

“The most advanced look at how climate policies will change our energy utilities, from power sources to operations to business models.” —Joe Romm, Editor of Climate Progress, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress

“An excellent treatment of the critical issues facing the electricity industry.” —Thomas R. Kuhn, President, Edison Electric Institute

Smart Power paints a sharp picture of the historic challenges facing the utility industry, its regulators and the nation at large. Peter Fox-Penner’s urgent call for a bottoms-up solution relying on local, state and regional cooperation and creativity presages the work now ongoing across the country. Smart Power is an essential read for policy makers looking for workable solutions for the next decade and beyond.” —Charles Gray, Executive Director, National Association of Regulatory Commissioners

“An absolutely terrific piece of work—remarkable scope and depth, while remaining accessible and pragmatic.” —John Kwoka, Finnegan Professor of Economics, Northeastern University

Power after Carbon
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Harvard University Press (May 19, 2020)

Author event calendar

The wheels of sustainable progress are turning.

Peter Fox-Penner writes in The Conversation (3/31/20): Covid will slow the global shift to renewable energy, but can’t stop it.

Listen to the author on the Freeing Energy podcast (3/2/20).

Transmission Time — Planning for the Future: FERC’s Opportunity to Spur More Cost-Effective Transmission Infrastructure, Americans for a Clean Energy Grid (January 27)

Clean-Energy and Grid Infrastructure Investing: Accelerating the End of Fossil Fuels, gridCONNEXT (December 10)

New Utility Business Models, Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), GridwiseAlliance, and Grid Forward (The Working Group Collaborative) (December 1)

Power After Carbon: Findings and Insights for State Policymakers, CleanEnergy States Alliance (September 9)

A Conversation with Peter Fox-Penner: COVID-19’s Impact on Energy and Environment Perceptions, Energy Institute, University of Texas at Austin (August 11)

Power After Carbon: Transitioning to Low-Carbon Power in the United States, Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University (July 29), with slide deck

NRRI Author Spotlight: Dr. Peter Fox-Penner, Power After Carbon, NARUC Summer Policy Summit (July 16)

Power After Carbon: Building a Clean, Resilient Grid, Edison Electric Institute (May 21)

Driva 2020 Climate Investment Talks: How Renewable Power Impacts the Grid, Nysnø Klimainvesteringer (May 21)

New Business Models for Electrification, NECEC (May 6), with slide deck