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Dr. Eric Williams

Professor, Sustainability
Energy Policy
Energy Supply/Demand Models
Technological Progress
Email:  
Phone:  
585-475-7211
Office:  
SUS/81-2171

About

Dr. Eric Williams teaches courses in risk analysis and sustainability practice for the MS, Ph.D., and M.Arch. programs. His research interests include informing policies supporting energy technology development in areas such as technology progress forecasting, heterogeneity in consumer energy markets and thermodynamic limits of efficiency, and exergy (available energy) analysis. His research has played a role in environmental certifications for electronics and he has had the honor to testify before Congress on electronic waste. His students say that he has a way of making complex methods and ideas as real and understandable as everyday experiences. When Dr. Williams is not working with his students, he enjoys cycling, games, and science fiction.

Prior to coming to RIT, Dr. Williams was an Assistant Professor for the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. He received his Ph.D. in Physics from Stony Brook University and his BA in Physics from Macalester College.

Teaching

One of my major goals in the classroom is to help students develop a “down-to-earth” and “manipulate-able” understanding of the material. I see a tendency for classroom knowledge and methods to be processed as abstract rather than as grounded and able to be manipulated as everyday knowledge/experiences. I thus work to make lectures, discussions and assignments elicit fundamental understanding of the material.

Outreach

To achieve its mission, sustainability research has to reach beyond the academic community. I engage with a broader set of stakeholders though a number of approaches. Media is an important venue, one needs to think about finding a “surprising” result of broad interest to garner interest. I also work to directly engage policy and industry communities through networking and workshops.

Highlighted Project

Simulating the build-out of the U.S. electricity grid with uncertainty to better manage costs and environmental impacts

Managing the evolution of the electricity grid is a critical economic and environmental challenge. Like other infrastructure, the electric grid is long-lived which exacerbates lock-in effects: capital investments, once made, last for decades and may delay the adoption of superior new technologies. This work will examine the effect that today's electricity infrastructure and policy decisions will have on the structure of the future electricity grid, using engineering and economic modeling to understand the complex relationships between infrastructure decisions, electricity policies, and technological progress. The results of this research will be valuable to both electricity grid planners and policy makers, both of whom make important long-term decisions about the U.S. electricity system. Improved understanding results in faster technological progress, more successful electricity policies, and a more economically efficient grid.

Research

My research is about building system models to better inform policy and other decisions to improve the sustainability outcomes of technologies. Recently I am focusing on energy systems, in particular understanding technological progress and patterns of adoption of new technologies. One example is work to understand how consumer benefits from subsidies for electric vehicles and what cost reductions in the technology might result from subsidy support. 

Much of my prior work addressed the environmental assessment of information technology, such as characterization of materials flows in semiconductor and computer manufacturing and international management of electronic waste.