RFF Explainers

Talk through

RFF Explainers

Background information on the concepts underpinning RFF research.

Border Carbon Adjustments

A border carbon adjustment, or BCA, is an environmental trade policy that consists of charges on imports, and sometimes rebates on exports. BCAs reflect the regulatory costs borne by domestically produced carbon-intensive products but not by the same, foreign-produced products

Several different phrases are often used to refer to essentially the same idea. Border carbon adjustments (BCAs), border tax adjustments (BTAs), and carbon border adjustment mechanisms (CBAMs) all refer to this notion of imposing a cost equivalent to domestic climate regulatory costs on otherwise unregulated imports.The goals fueling BCAs are twofold: to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and to avoid the emergence of trade advantages and disadvantages as different governments enact climate policies with different levels of ambition. As of this writing, no BCA has ever been fully implemented—the policy option is still theoretical. https://www.rff.org/publications/explainers/border-carbon-adjustments-101/
Geothermal Energy

An overview of traditional and next generation geothermal technologies, the benefits and challenges of geothermal energy use and deployment, and the policy landscape for geothermal energy in the United States.

Geothermal energy is a renewable energy source that comes from reservoirs of hot water beneath the Earth’s surface. With applications in several economics sectors—electricity, industry, and buildings—increased use of geothermal energy has the potential to decrease the use of fossil fuels and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. This explainer provides an overview of traditional and next generation geothermal technologies and how they work, the benefits of geothermal energy use, the challenges to increased deployment, and the policy landscape for geothermal energy in the United States. https://www.rff.org/publications/explainers/geothermal-energy-101/
The Land and Water Conservation Fund

An overview of the history, funding, and future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a major source of funding for federal land acquisition and state conservation projects.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been the principal funding source to acquire federal land for conservation and recreation purposes since 1965. The four federal land management agencies—the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and Forest Service—all receive money from the LWCF. Unlike many federal programs, the LWCF does not rely on taxpayer money. Instead, it is funded primarily through the revenues the federal government earns from oil and gas leases on offshore federal lands. https://www.rff.org/publications/explainers/land-and-water-conservation-fund-101/
Energy Efficiency

The basics of improving energy efficiency, from how it can reduce energy use and mitigate climate change to the policies in place to encourage people to invest in energy-efficient products.

Energy efficiency refers to using less energy to provide an energy service. For example, energy-efficient LED light bulbs are able to produce the same amount of light as incandescent light bulbs by using 75 to 80 percent less electricity. Since energy production typically creates pollution and greenhouse gases, improving the energy efficiency of certain technologies has the potential to significantly reduce energy consumption and consequently reduce emissions from the energy sector. https://www.rff.org/publications/explainers/energy-efficiency-101/
Carbon Capture and Storage

An overview of CCS technology, including how it works, where it is currently used in the United States, barriers to more widespread use, and policies that may affect its development and deployment.

Carbon capture and sequestration/storage (CCS) is the process of capturing carbon dioxide (CO₂) formed during power generation and industrial processes and storing it so that it is not emitted into the atmosphere. CCS technologies have significant potential to reduce CO₂ emissions in energy systems. Facilities with CCS can capture almost all of the CO₂ they produce (some currently capture 90 or even 100 percent). This explainer provides an overview of CCS technology, including how it works, where it is currently used in the United States, barriers to more widespread use, and policies that may affect its development and deployment. It also includes a list of additional resources for further reading. https://www.rff.org/publications/explainers/carbon-capture-and-storage-101/
Renewables: Integrating Renewable Energy Resources into the Grid

An exploration of how renewables connect to the grid, how these connections impact grid operations, and implications of a high penetration of renewables for the grid in the future.

Generating electricity using renewable energy resources (such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric energy) rather than fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) reduces greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector and helps address climate change. While renewables are preferable to fossil fuel generators from an emissions standpoint, power output from renewable sources depends on variable natural resources, which makes these plants more difficult to control and presents challenges for grid operators. https://www.rff.org/publications/explainers/renewables-101-integrating-renewables/
Electricity: Terms and Definitions

Basics of the electric grid and the power industry, explained

There are three main steps in the process of getting electricity to a home or business: generation, transmission, and distribution.Generation refers to the process of converting energy into electricity. Power plants generate electricity from a variety of energy sources, including fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas); nuclear reactions (fission); and renewable sources (such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power).Transmission refers to transporting electricity (typically over long distances) from the power plants where it is generated to the neighborhoods and cities where it will be used. For each mile electricity travels, some power is lost. Electricity is transmitted at high voltages to minimize this loss and make transmission more efficient.Distribution is the process of transferring electricity over the relatively short distance from transmission cables into a home or business. Between the transmission and distribution power lines, transformers in distribution substations “step down,” or decrease, the voltage to the levels required in households and businesses. https://www.rff.org/publications/explainers/electricity-101/
Forest Bioenergy: Generation and Emissions

Forest bioenergy has been heralded by some as a promising renewable energy source and condemned by others as having negative effects on the environment. Here’s a review of the basics of forest bioenergy generation and emissions.

Forest bioenergy describes the energy generated from the combustion of wood and wood wastes or biofuels derived from wood. Woody material can be sourced from harvested trees or from forest biomass that would otherwise have been treated as waste—residues from a harvest, production of other wood products, or from urban waste streams. Forest bioenergy has been heralded by some as a promising renewable energy source and condemned by others as having negative effects on the environment. Most International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate scenarios anticipate that bioenergy will play a critical role in reducing emissions from the energy sector. This explainer reviews the basics of forest bioenergy, the different ways of looking at its impact on the environment, and the different methods of measuring and counting forest bioenergy emissions. https://www.rff.org/publications/explainers/forest-bioenergy-101/

How does discounting help decisionmakers understand the costs and benefits of choices and policies—and how does it apply to climate change?

Discounting is the process of converting a value received in a future time period (e.g., 1, 10, or even 100 years from now) to an equivalent value received immediately. For example, a dollar received 50 years from now may be valued less than a dollar received today—discounting measures this relative value. The discounting process is a way to convert units of value across time horizons, translating future dollars into today’s dollars. Discounting is used by decisionmakers to fully understand the costs and benefits of policies that have future impacts. This explainer will review the rationale behind discounting, how the discount rate is calculated, and why discounting matters for climate policies. https://www.rff.org/publications/explainers/discounting-101/

An overview of how electrification can reduce emissions, from the feasibility of electrifying different technologies to the policy options for encouraging economy-wide electrification.

Electrification refers to the process of replacing technologies that use fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) with technologies that use electricity as a source of energy. Depending on the resources used to generate electricity, electrification can potentially reduce carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from the transportation, building, and industrial sectors, which account for 63 percent of all US greenhouse gas emissions. Addressing emissions from these sectors is critical to decarbonizing the economy and, ultimately, mitigating the impacts of climate change. This explainer reviews how electrification can reduce emissions; possibilities and potential challenges of electrification in the transportation, building, and industrial sectors; and policy options for encouraging electrification. https://www.rff.org/publications/explainers/electrification-101/
Measuring How Scientific Research Benefits Society Using Economics

Valuing earth science information empowers scientists to show how their work benefits people and the environment.

Scientists and scientific organizations are increasingly interested in understanding and communicating how their work benefits society. It is now common to hear catch phrases like “actionable science,” “science to action,” and “science to policy” around university centers, scientific conferences, and research publications. Professional organization such as the American Geophysical Union (AGU), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) all have significant initiatives to help scientists better understand the role of scientific information in addressing stakeholder needs and pressing policy issues. https://www.rff.org/publications/explainers/measuring-how-scientific-research-benefits-society-using-economics/
What Is “Value”?

What do economists mean by value, and how do they think about the value of information?

Simply put, things that have “value” are useful to you, improve your situation, or simply make you happy or more secure. An apple, a pet dog, a glass of clean water, and a walk on the beach are all things that may have value to someone. In some cases, this value can be expressed in monetary terms. Goods purchased in markets, such as food or a new car, carry prices, which are indicative of the item’s value to you. However, value need not be expressed only in monetary terms. For example, your situation or mindset can be improved by spending time with friends and family. This experience has value even if you don’t necessarily pay a specific price to receive it. https://www.rff.org/publications/explainers/what-is-value/
Social Cost of Carbon

A review of the social cost of carbon, from a basic definition to the history of its use in policy analysis.

The social cost of carbon (SCC) is an estimate, in dollars, of the economic damages that would result from emitting one additional ton of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The SCC puts the effects of climate change into economic terms to help policymakers and other decisionmakers understand the economic impacts of decisions that would increase or decrease emissions. The SCC is currently used by local, state, and federal governments to inform billions of dollars of policy and investment decisions in the United States and abroad. This explainer reviews how the SCC is used in policy analysis, how it is calculated, and how it came to be. https://www.rff.org/publications/explainers/social-cost-carbon-101/
Carbon Pricing

An introduction to carbon pricing, including carbon taxes and cap-and-trade programs, the benefits and design of pricing policies, and applications around the globe.

Carbon pricing is a climate policy approach used in a number of countries and subnational jurisdictions (regions, states, provinces, cities) around the world. Carbon pricing works by charging emitters for the tons of emissions of carbon dioxide (CO₂) for which they are responsible. CO₂ is emitted largely through the combustion of fossil fuels used for electricity generation, industrial production, transportation, and use of energy in residential and commercial buildings. https://www.rff.org/publications/explainers/carbon-pricing-101/