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Brighter Future: Studying the Economics of Solar Panels in U.S.


Economics major Jesse Bennett ’19 is spending this summer working on an empirical analysis of U.S. data on installation of solar panels. Because states, and sometimes counties, differ in the incentives they provide to consumers and producers, the main focus of the research is to understand which incentives are most effective. 

Jesse Bennett '19
Jesse Bennett '19
What are you working on this summer?

For my Levitt project, I’m analyzing the effects that various policies have on the diffusion of photovoltaic cells (solar panels) in the United States. Right now, the focus of my research is to contrast the effectiveness of production subsidies versus consumption subsidies. If a local, state, or federal government has a limited number of dollars to spend on renewable energy, we should know where that money is best spent.

In order to look at the effects of different policies on solar panel installations, I’ll be using data gathered from the US Census and other sources for a statistical analysis. The goal is to measure the effects of different variables on the amount of photovoltaic power installed in a local geographic region. For now, I’m focusing my research on California since it has the most extensive data on photovoltaics available.

What drew you to this project?

I’ve had an interest in environmentalism since I took AP Environmental Science my senior year of high school. As a result, throughout my time at Hamilton, I took classes to study the impact that humans have on the environment. I’ve looked at the issue from a scientific perspective in my geosciences courses and from a humanities perspective in my history courses.

about Jesse Bennett ’19

Major: Economics

Hometown: Rochester, N.Y.

High School: Pittsford Sutherland High School

read about other student research projects

Since I’m an economics major, I registered for Environmental Economics with Professor of Economics Julio Videras in fall 2017. I really enjoyed learning the material as well as working with Professor Videras. One day, I asked him if there was any research he was working on that we could potentially work on together so that I could apply for a Levitt. Together, we came up with this project in a very new and important field of research. It supports my passion for economics as well as environmentalism.

What’s an average day for you on the job?

Throughout this project, my average day consists of work from my laptop in my hometown. After I wake up in the morning and go through my usual routine, I'll pack up my backpack, my lunch, and head to the local town library. I'll find myself a nice comfortable corner near an outlet and I'll get to work on the project, scouring the Internet for data and journal articles. Sometimes I'll pop on over to the Starbucks next door for a quick pick-me-up.

Since I don’t need very many resources to work on my project, I can work from anywhere. For example, I worked out of Boston for a few days earlier this summer while I helped my older sister move out of her apartment.

I really like the independence that this project provides. I have complete autonomy and can choose when, where, and how long I want to work, so long as I reach my self-imposed deadlines.

Where do you see yourself in the future, career-wise?

This project helped spark my passion in a field that is increasingly important as climate change continues to be a significant concern. I’m planning to apply to graduate school in this field sometime in the future.

Research is a significant aspect of graduate-level economics, so this project provides me with first-hand experience, teaching me what it’s like to conduct academic research.

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