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Wally Tyner

The James and Lois Ackerman Professor of Agricultural Economics

Energy economist informs policy decisions

Developing new, clean and sustainable energy sources is a top priority for many nations around the world. The challenge is that for any of these options to be effective, they have to be economical. This is the quest for energy economist Wally Tyner.

Tyner, who is co-director of the Purdue Center for Research on Energy Systems and Policy, uses economic analysis to inform lawmakers who set energy policies. His studies have covered everything from coal and gasoline to solar power and biofuels. He lends his expertise as a member of the National Academy of Science Committee on the Economic and Environmental Impacts of Biofuels and as a consultant for agencies ranging from the U.S. Department of Energy to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

In one recent study, Tyner and a multidisciplinary team of researchers suggested that high battery costs and electricity prices may discourage consumers from buying plug-in hybrids. If the electricity cost savings over gasoline is not enough to offset the higher initial vehicle cost, he posits, then the extra costs will cause people to forego plug-ins. The study examined California, which uses a tiered pricing system to charge customers more if they use larger amounts of electricity. California rates average about 14 to 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, among the highest in the nation. The alternative and more economical system, he suggests, is to use time-of-use or flat rate electricity prices, or some combination of both.

Mind exercise: Tyner walks to and from work most days weather permitting, using the time to collect his thoughts. "It's two miles each way and it's an easy walk, so it's a great time to think about the past day and what's coming up,” he says. “I often walk into the house or office and write down notes."

Inspiration:This policy advisor gets satisfaction from knowing that his work can have positive impact. "I really believe policy can make a difference,” he says. “I'm a firm believer that better information leads to better decisions."

Passing the torch: For Tyner, success is measured by the accomplishments of his students. “Five of the last seven years, one of my students won the best thesis or best dissertation award in the department. Seeing that transformation and acquisition of skills really turns me on. It's what I really strive to do."

You may not know: While growing up in his parents' grocery store without the means to buy the fancy electronics he saw in catalogs, Tyner dreamed of tinkering with televisions, stereos and other components. "I spent a lot of time daydreaming about electronics that I couldn't afford,” he says. “Now I put together my own components and do a lot of research on electronics. My friends come to me before they buy anything electronic."

By Brian Wallheimer
Photos by: Tom Campbell