Valerie Thomas

Anderson Interface Professor of Natural Systems

Member Of:
  • Center for Urban Innovation
  • Climate and Energy Policy Laboratory
  • School of Public Policy
  • Technology Policy and Assessment Center
Office Phone:
404-385-7254
Office Location:
Groseclose 415
Related Links:
Overview

Valerie Thomas is the Anderson Interface Professor of Natural Systems, with a joint appointment in the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering and the School of Public Policy. Her research interests span energy systems, sustainability, industrial ecology, technology assessment, international security, and science and technology policy. Current research projects include the environmental impacts of alternative fuels, assessment of renewable electricity options, evaluation of alternative vehicle technologies, and energy development in Africa. Thomas received a B. A. in physics from Swarthmore College and a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Cornell University. From 1986 to 1989, she was a post-doctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. From 1989 to 2004, she was a Research Scientist at Princeton University, in the Princeton Environmental Institute and in the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, and was a Lecturer in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. In 2004-05, Thomas was the American Physical Society Congressional Science Fellow. Thomas is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a Fellow of the American Physical Society. From 2003 to 2009 she was a member of the US EPA Science Advisory Board. She is currently a member of the USDA/DOE Biomass R&D Technical Advisory Committee. 

Education:
  • PhD, Physics, Cornell University
  • BA, Physics, Swarthmore College
Awards and
Distinctions:
  • Georgia Tech Class of 1934 Outstanding Interdisciplinary Award, 2018
  • Fellow, AAAS
  • Fellow, American Physical Society
Areas of
Expertise:
  • Energy
  • Industrial Ecology
  • Lifecycle Analysis
  • Sustainability
Interests
Research Fields:
  • Clean Energy
  • Climate Change Mitigation
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Energy, Climate and Environmental Policy
  • Transportation
Geographic
Focuses:
  • Africa (Sub-Saharan)
  • Middle East
  • United States
  • United States - Georgia
  • United States - Southeast
Issues:
  • Energy
  • Environment
  • Environmental Performance
  • National Security
  • Science and Technology
  • Sustainability
Courses
  • PHIL-6000: Responsible Conduct-Res
  • PUBP-6701: Energy Technol & Policy
Recent Publications

Journal Articles

Working Papers

  • The Economics of Four Virginia Biomass Plants

    April 2018

    Global electricity generated from biomass more than tripled between 2000 and 2016, and it is forecast to grow at an increasing pace through 2050. Electricity generation from biomass is also expanding in the United States, particularly in the Southeast. Given the continued growth and policy support for biomass electricity generation, this paper assesses the economics of four Virginia biomass plants, three converted from coal plants in 2012 and one purchased and expanded in 2004. The goal is to estimate the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) generated from the plants as a metric of their level of competitiveness with respect to alternative ways of meeting electricity demand in the region. The LCOE of the four plants range from $93 to $143/MWh, about 40-53% more expensive than new solar and wind today and is double the cost of energy efficiency. Even with the inclusion of federal subsidies and environmental credits, Dominion’s biomass conversions are not competitive. Overall, our analysis underscores the risks associated with investing in large, long-lived generation assets at a time when technologies and markets are rapidly evolving.

  • The Economics of Four Virginia Biomass Plants

    March 2018

    Global electricity generated from biomass more than tripled between 2000 and 2016, and it is forecast to grow at an increasing pace through the year 2040. Electricity generation from biomass is also expanding in the United States, particularly in the Southeast. Given the continued growth and policy support for biomass electricity generation, this paper assesses the economics of four Virginia biomass plants, three converted from coal plants in 2012 and one purchased and expanded in 2004. The goal is to estimate the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) generated from the plants as a metric of their level of competitiveness with respect to alternative ways of meeting electricity demand in the region. The LCOE of the four plants range from $93 to $143/MWh, about 40-53% more expensive than new solar and wind today. Even with the inclusion of federal subsidies and environmental credits, Dominion’s biomass conversions are not competitive with several other established sources of electricity and affordable energy-efficiency options. Overall, our analysis underscores the risks associated with investing in large, long-lived generation assets at a time when technologies and markets are rapidly evolving.