Is there a disconnect between researchers, practitioners, and policy makers?

I’ll be starting my graduate education this fall. Ever since I started working on net zero energy research, one question has stuck to the back of my mind: “this research may be great, but are the results inciting actionable changes?” More often than not, I felt deflated about the real world impact of the research.

It’s important to me that (my) research work is part of something larger than just the academic lexicon. I’m interested to hear from this esteemed community. Do you perceive a disconnect between researchers, practitioners, and policy makers, like I do? Do you have an opinion why such a disconnect exists? What can we do to improve the information pipeline between stakeholders?

David, good question. You may find this article helpful - it describes collaboration between researchers and practitioners on embodied carbon that resulted in actionable changes. The Carbon Leadership Forum is one of the “stars” in the article.

Validating an Emerging Design Area through Industry-Academia Research Partnerships
in Technology/Architecture + Design (2021) 5:1, 14-18.

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Perhaps the disconnect is more profound. Have you read ‘CLIMATE SCIENTISTS EXPLAIN WHY NET-ZERO IS A ‘DANGEROUS TRAP’: PART 2’

To be clear about terminology, there is a difference between net zero energy (original post) and net zero carbon (the article Frank posted). Net Zero Energy is quantifiable, and flawed in it’s own way. But the Net Zero referred to the in the ‘Net Zero is a Dangerous idea’ refers to net zero as a range of carbon capture technologies, and rightly points out that they may not ever be deployable at scale and should be a last resort. Net Zero Energy is flawed because it often annual and doesn’t include time of use which can have a significant effect on carbon emissions and the cost of creating and maintaining an electricity grid.

To the original post, there are always disconnects between academia, policy, and practice; people who can bridge the gaps can create significant change. Practitioners need things that are ready to deploy, have a reasonable cost, and will perform. Policy-makers need examples of how something does or could work as well as the costs, as well as multiple stakeholders to buy in to the idea.

I’m interested in what kind of research you are interested in doing on net zero energy…costs, technical details, policy ideas, or…?


Very important distinctions, Kjell. I’ll be going to the University of Colorado - Boulder, working within the Building Systems Engineering department. I’ll be working primarily on community HVAC and utilities modeling, but hope to focus on renewable energy reliability and feasibility as well. We build these utilities models based primarily on the mechanical engineering principles of thermodynamics and fluid mechanics. The Architectural Engineering dept. at CU has an amazingly diverse set of faculty, who offer plenty of opportunities to employ research skills in various disciplines. I’m really looking forward to gaining skills that’ll allow me to start building bridges between academia, research, and industry; I see the CLF as a significant part of that process.

Thanks for the link Amy! Definitely an interesting case study for a successful academia-industry partnership. It shows that the collaboration is feasible. It makes me wonder about the logistics of forging these interdisciplinary relationships, and with whom the burden lies on to reach out and start the collaborative process. There seems to be no “road map” for these relationships, which makes them new and exciting, but also quite unknown and somewhat trepidatious.

CLF is definitely a key player in facilitating these relationships by (1) disseminating knowledge/resources online and through local hubs, (2) fostering connections between industry stakeholders, (3) providing policy guidance, and (4) incubating initiatives like SE 2050, to name a few. Academics in this field must understand the state of the practice in industry to identify knowledge gaps worth tackling and then make sure their important research is heard and put to use. My favorite framework for prioritization is to identify the problems that are big, solvable, and neglected.

Embodied carbon is a much bigger conversation now than it was a few years ago, but it still has a long way to go. There’s a small group of industry professionals who are sprinting but many more who have barely started crawling. While academics might often support best practices for the sprinters, there’s also considerable work to be done for the crawlers, so it’s obviously not ‘one-size-fits-all’. But how can we best reach the most people?

Take biogenic carbon in LCA as an example. There’s obviously a lot of nuance to the conversation, as outlined by this overview of LCA methods by Hoxha (2020), but if we want to dramatically expand LCA as a practice, that doesn’t necessarily involve convincing everybody to read this paper and go down that rabbit hole. If we make sure the right people get this info (LCA tool developers, influential industry professionals), then it can hopefully get put to use in the right ways, even if the message is pared down. Maybe most people need to hear the ultra-trimmed down version of it: “all biogenic carbon models are wrong, some are useful when you use them correctly”. I think some of the best ways to put this research to use are through policy, tool development, and case studies that highlight how to put valuable findings into practice.

I’m starting my PhD with Wil Srubar next year so I’ll see you in Boulder! Looking forward to connecting.