PHD candidate

Swapnil Shekhar

About me

I was born and brought up in a small town called Hazaribag in the eastern part of India. Since 2007, I have moved across various parts of India and travelled to several countries of the world. More recently, I have moved to Eindhoven to pursue my Ph.D. The diversity of social, cultural, behavioural and ideological norms across these places always piques my interest. I like to know the stories of different places and people. In this regard, my transition to the Netherlands has been an enriching experience. Since my childhood, the idea of prediction has captured my imagination. As a student of Economics, statistical prediction methods caught my attention during my university education. But I am equally enthralled by pseudoscientific prediction and analysis methods like astrology and graphology. I like to understand the fundamental principles and workings of different belief systems. I also find mythological stories very interesting. Academically, I am in pursuit of developing a more inclusive, quantitative model of energy transition for science-based policy prescription. In my leisure, I enjoy cooking, and watching fantasy and investigative shows. Having moved to the Netherlands, I also enjoy spending time around the lakes.

Personal Motivation

I ventured into the space of climate mitigation when I joined The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in 2016 with an objective to explore interdisciplinary studies. I started with energy and connected it to air pollution and health, water resources and the economic system and was working towards integrating land-use with energy. What I found conspicuously lacking in my work was the presence of social sciences. I also noticed that these studies focused mainly on identifying ‘targets’ but there was very little discussion on how to achieve these targets. My entry into this field was quite serendipitous, but it exposed me to two crucial aspects of the field- first, the issue of climate change is more urgent than most people realise, and second, the solution to climate change will come from integrated and inter-disciplinary efforts. I also observed that the more popular approaches to study climate mitigation are very aggregated in their assumptions, and their focus is concentrated on technologies and resources. My research at NEON gives me the opportunity to study climate mitigation from the perspective of the humans and their interactions with technologies and resources. Different people respond differently to climate change solutions- what is good for one may not be good for others. My personal motivation with regards to NEON is to understand the diverse needs of people and the role it plays in their response to climate change. Besides, NEON also gives me the opportunity to appreciate the complex predicament of scientific predictions.

Simulation modelling to understand technology evolution in the context of freight mobility

I am studying decarbonization in the freight transportation sector of the Netherlands. The transportation of goods primarily happen through vehicles running on fossil fuels. The corresponding zero carbon alternatives (i.e., electric or hydrogen trucks) are in a fairly nascent stage. As these technology develop, a daunting question that remains unsolved is- how can we ensure that the transition from fossil fuel-based trucks to zero-carbon trucks happens in a swift and smooth manner? Most studies assume a certain cost reduction which leads to a certain penetration level of the desired technologies. But these assumptions are usually weak, and little is known about the process or dynamics that leads to this reduction. The most recent example is the rapid fall in cost of solar panels (globally but particularly in India), which was not just unexpected but quite unprecedented as well.

Through my research, I am trying to identify these dynamics and understand the process through which cost reduction in a new technology happens. Using a similar approach for price dynamism, I plan to study the process of learning (cost-reduction) and experience (price-reduction) of electric and hydrogen trucks. My ultimate objective is to develop a generalized framework to study the evolution of technology i.e., development, demonstration, deployment and diffusion. Such a framework can be used to identify the most crucial factors involved in this process and develop a strategy to create an environment conducive for germination of new, low-carbon technologies.

Link to other neon research

The bulk of my work within NEON falls under work package (WP) 10 (Integral Model). The explicit focus of my work on trucks implies I shall work closely with work packages focusing on related  technologies: WP4 (Electric Mobility), WP5 (Charging Mobility) and WP6 (Smart and Safe Mobility).

Further, I also intend to study the social and psychological aspects of decision making within the trucking and freight transportation industry. This ties in with WP7 (The Human Factors) and WP9 (Societal Values).