Dr. Benedict Probst

Max Planck Research Group Leader

Innovation and Entrepreneurship Research
Net Zero Lab

+49 89 24246-575
benedict.probst(at)ip.mpg.de

Areas of Interest:

Climate-Technology Innovation, Entrepreneurship, CO2-Markets and Corporate Climate Goals, Policy Evaluation, Carbon Removal

Academic Résumé

Since 05/2024
Founder and Max Planck Research Group Leader of Net Zero Lab, Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition

Since 04/2024
Senior Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition (Innovation and Entrepreneurship Research)

04/2022 – 03/2024
Senior Researcher (Oberassistent) & Lecturer, Group for Sustainability and Technology, Department of Management, Technology, and Economics, ETH Zurich

04/2021 – 03/2022
Post-Doc, Group for Sustainability and Technology, Department of Management, Technology, and Economics, ETH Zurich

Seit 01/2020
Fellow,  Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy & Natural Resource Governance (C-EENRG), Universität Cambridge

09/2017 – 09/2020
Ph.D. Environmental Economics and Policy, University of Cambridge

09/2016 – 09/2017
M.Phil. Environmental Policy, University of Cambridge

09/2015 – 09/2016
M.Sc. Environment and Developmen, London School of Economics & Political Science

09/2011 – 09/2014
B.Sc. International Business Administration & Development Economics (Minor), Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University

Work Experience

04/2017 – 03/2021
Consultant, KfW Entwicklungsbank, Impact Evaluation Team

11/2019 – 01/2021
Senior Associate, Aurora Energy Research

07/2017-10/2019
External Consultant, Aurora Energy Research

07/2019 – 06/2020
Consultant, World Bank Energy and Extractives Global Practice

Publications

Articles in Refereed Journals

Lohmann, Paul M.; Probst, Benedict; Gsottbauer, Elisabeth; Kontoleon, Andreas (2024). High Levels of Air Pollution Reduce Team Performance, Journal of Economic Psychology, 101. DOI

  • Teams play a key role in tackling complex societal challenges, such as developing vaccines or novel clean energy technologies. Yet, the effect of air pollution on team performance in non-routine problem-solving tasks is not well explored. Here, we document a sizable adverse effect of air pollution on team performance using data from 15,000 live escape games in London, United Kingdom. On high-pollution days, teams take on average 5% more time to solve a sequence of non-routine analytical tasks, which require collaborative skills analogous to those needed in the modern workplace. Negative effects are non-linear and only occur at high levels of air pollution, which are however commonplace in many developing countries. As team efforts predominantly drive innovation, high levels of air pollution may significantly hamper economic development.

Foster, Vivien; Trotter, Philipp A.; Werner, Sven; Niedermayer, Melin; Mulugetta, Yacob; Achakulwisut, Ploy; Brophy, Aoife; Dubash, Navroz K.; Fankhauser, Sam; Hawkes, Adam; Hirmer, Stephanie; Jenkins, Stuart; Loni, Sam; McGivern, Alexis; Nanthavong, Khamphone; Probst, Benedict; Pye, Steve; Russo, Vladimir; Semieniuk, Gregor; Shenga, Carlos; Sridharan, Vignesh; Srivastav, Sugandha; Sokona, Youba; Somavilla Croxatto, Lucas; Yang, Pu (2024). Development Transitions for Fossil Fuel-Producing Low and Lower–Middle Income Countries in a Carbon-Constrained World, Nature Energy, 9, 242-250. DOI

  • The production and use of fossil fuels need to decline rapidly to limit global warming. Although global net-zero scenarios abound, the associated development ramifications for fossil fuel-producing low and lower–middle income countries (LLMICs), as well as adequate international responses, have been underexplored. Here we conceptualize that, depending on country context, three types of development transition follow from declining fossil fuel production and use for LLMIC producers, namely an energy transition, an economic transition and an equitable fossil fuel production transition. We propose a classification of these transitions, arguing that heterogeneity in LLMICs’ fossil fuel production and usage substantially impacts their pathways towards low-carbon development. We illustrate this by discussing different cases of fossil fuel-producing LLMICs, focusing on Mozambique, India, Lao PDR and Angola. We conclude by detailing context-specific international support portfolios to foster low-carbon development in fossil fuel-producing LLMICs, and call for a re-orientation of international support along principles of global solidarity.

Probst, Benedict; Lohmann, Paul M.; Kontoleon, Andreas; Anadón, Laura Díaz (2023). The Impact of Open Access Mandates on Scientific Research and Technological Development in the U.S., iScience, 26 (10). DOI

  • Getting to a net-zero emissions economy requires faster development and diffusion of novel clean energy technologies. We exploit a rare natural experiment to study the impact of an open-access mandate on the diffusion of scientific research into patented technologies. From 2014 onwards, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) required its 17 National Laboratories (NLs) to publish all peer-reviewed scientific articles without a paywall. Using data from more than 300,000 scientific publications between 2012 and 2018, we show that scientific articles subject to the mandate were used on average 42% more in patents, despite embargo periods of up to 12 months. We also show that articles subject to the mandate were not cited more frequently by other academic articles. Our findings suggest that the mandate primarily contributed to technological development but has not led to additional academic research. Lastly, we show that small firms were the primary beneficiaries of the increased diffusion of scientific knowledge.

Toetzke, Malte; Probst, Benedict; Feuerriegel, Stefan (2023). Leveraging Large Language Models to Monitor Climate Technology Innovation, Environmental Research Letters, 18 (9). DOI

  • To achieve net-zero emissions, public policy needs to foster rapid innovation of climate technologies. However, there is a scarcity of comprehensive and up-to-date evidence to guide policymaking by monitoring climate innovation systems. This is notable, especially at the center of the innovation process, where nascent inventions transition into profitable and scalable market solutions. Here, we discuss the potential of large language models (LLMs) to monitor climate technology innovation. By analyzing large pools of unstructured text data sources, such as company reports and social media, LLMs can automate information retrieval processes and thereby improve existing monitoring in terms of cost-effectiveness, timeliness, and comprehensiveness. In this perspective, we show how LLMs can play a crucial role in informing innovation policy for the energy transition by highlighting promising use cases and prevailing challenges for research and policy.

Hondeborg, Diane; Probst, Benedict; Petkov, Ivalin; Knoeri, Christof (2023). The Effectiveness of Building Retrofit Subsidies: Empirical Evidence from Switzerland, Energy Policy, 180. DOI

  • While retrofitting buildings is one of the key elements of reaching climate and energy goals, it is burdened by insufficient speed and depth. Governments have attempted to accelerate deep retrofits via subsidies, but scant evidence exists on these policies’ effectiveness. In this study, we investigate the effectiveness of retrofitting subsidies by using a range of econometric techniques and a unique dataset of over 400 Swiss buildings with 19,000 observations over 11 years. Specifically, we analyze whether retrofits reduce energy consumption, whether subsidized retrofits lead to deeper retrofits than non-subsidized retrofits, and we differentiate the impact by subsidy amount. We find that retrofits reduce average energy use by 10–20%, that the achieved savings through subsidized and non-subsidized retrofits do not differ significantly, and that the subsidy amount is correlated to a reduction in energy use by 0.42 CHF per kWh over a period of 20 years. Our study highlights the importance of policies that enhance retrofit depth, the need to further investigate the causes of the wide variation in retrofitting results, and to consider effectiveness studies within the policy design.

Scheifele, F.; Bräuning, M.; Probst, Benedict (2022). The Impact of Local Content Requirements on the Development of Export Competitiveness in Solar and Wind Technologies, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 168. DOI

  • Governments across the globe are implementing targeted industrial policies to reap the socio-economic benefits of renewable power deployment for their local industries. Here, we analyse local content requirements, a specific type of industrial policy that incentivizes local manufacturing through requiring minimum shares of locally produced inputs in renewable energy projects. Local content requirements are one of the most prominent industrial policy tools, with more than 140 applications across different sectors since 2008, yet their impact on industrial development is not well established. We create a panel dataset from 1995 to 2017 of 124 countries, among which 17 introduced local content requirements in wind and solar PV, to analyze the policies’ impact on exports. We employ synthetic control methods to create country-specific counterfactuals. For most countries, local content requirements have not led to a significant increase in exports of solar and wind energy components. The exceptions are China and Spain, which built significant export capacities in wind energy. A central reason for the limited impact of local content requirements is likely that countries target wind and solar components that are too far away from their existing industrial structures. We show that countries that have succeeded in breaking into solar or wind exports have already exhibited export capabilities in related industries before the introduction of local content requirements, such as electronics for solar PV. Policymakers should carefully consider the potential of existing industrial structures before introducing local content requirements.

Mulugetta, Yacob; Sokona, Youba; Trotter, Philipp A.; Fankhauser, Samuel; Omukuti, Jessica; Croxatto, Lucas Somavilla; Steffen, Bjarne; Tesfamichael, Meron; Abraham, Edo; Adam, Jean-Paul; Agbemabiese, Lawrence; Agutu, Churchill; Aklilu, Mekalia Paulos; Alao, Olakunle; Batidzirai, Bothwell; Bekele, Getachew; Dagnachew, Anteneh G.; Davidson, Ogunlade; Denton, Fatima; Diemuodeke, E. Ogheneruona; Egli, Florian; Gebresilassie, Eshetu Gebrekidan; Gebreslassie, Mulualem; Goundiam, Mamadou; Gujba, Haruna Kachalla; Hailu, Yohannes; Hawkes, Adam D.; Hirmer, Stephanie; Hoka, Helen; Howells, Mark; Isah, Abdulrasheed; Kammen, Daniel; Kemausuor, Francis; Khennas, Ismail; Kruger, Wikus; Malo, Ifeoma; Mofor, Linus; Nago, Minette; Nock, Destenie; Okereke, Chukwumerije; Ouedraogo, S. Nadia; Probst, Benedict; Schmidt, Maria; Schmidt, Tobias S.; Shenga, Carlos; Sokona, Mohamed; Steckel, Jan Christoph; Sterl, Sebastian; Tembo, Bernard; Tomei, Julia; Twesigye, Peter; Watson, Jim; Yussuff, Abdulmutalib; Winkler, Harald (2022). Africa Needs Context-Relevant Evidence to Shape Its Clean Energy Future, Nature Energy, 7, 1015-1022. DOI

  • Aligning development and climate goals means Africa’s energy systems will be based on clean energy technologies in the long term, but pathways to get there are uncertain and variable across countries. Although current debates about natural gas and renewables in Africa are heated, they largely ignore the substantial context specificity of the starting points, development objectives and uncertainties of each African country’s energy system trajectory. Here we—an interdisciplinary and majority African group of authors—highlight that each country faces a distinct solution space and set of uncertainties for using renewables or fossil fuels to meet its development objectives. For example, Ethiopia is headed for an accelerated green-growth pathway, but Mozambique is at a crossroads of natural gas expansion with implicit large-scale technological, economic, financial and social risks and uncertainties. We provide geopolitical, policy, finance and research recommendations to create firm country-specific evidence to identify adequate energy system pathways for development and to enable their implementation.

Probst, Benedict; Westermann, Lotte; Anadón, Laura Díaz; Kontoleon, Andreas (2021). Leveraging Private Investment to Expand Renewable Power Generation: Evidence on Financial Additionality and Productivity Gains from Uganda, World Development, 140. DOI

  • Effectively mitigating climate change entails a quick upscaling and redirection of electricity infrastructure investment towards clean power. Given that the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions increases until 2050 will come from low- and middle-income countries, finding cost-effective ways to mitigate climate change while meeting development targets is essential. However, recent research has shown some of the limitations of broad financing mechanisms, such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and existing carbon markets. This has resulted in a growing interest in designing novel investment support schemes, such as modifications of feed-in tariffs (FiTs) that may be more cost effective and better targeted towards particular outcomes when compared to traditional deployment subsidies or broad financing mechanisms. We evaluate the design and outcomes of one such novel support schemes: the GET FiT (Global Energy Transfer Feed-in Tariff) investment support scheme in Uganda, which has attracted ~ 453 million USD in private sector investment for 17 small-scale renewable energy projects (solar, hydro, bagasse) in only three years. Using financial modelling on detailed project-level data, we find that most projects were additional and would therefore not have been built without the subsidy. In addition, using firm-level panel data, we show that power outages hamper manufacturing performance in Uganda. In the absence of reliable outage-data for the entire Ugandan territory, we use nightlight variations to proxy changes in outages. We show that outages have declined substantially since the introduction of GET FiT. Yet, our analysis also demonstrates that programmes to incentivise additional renewable generation in developing countries funded internationally or domestically should liaise closely with grid authorities to ensure that supply does not outstrip demand.

Probst, Benedict; Touboul, Simon; Glachant, Matthieu; Dechezleprêtre, Antoine (2021). Global Trends in the Invention and Diffusion of Climate Change Mitigation Technologies, Nature Energy, 6, 1077-1086. DOI

  • Increasing the development and diffusion of climate change mitigation technologies on a global scale is critical to reaching net-zero emissions. We have analysed over a quarter of a million high-value inventions in all major climate change mitigation technologies patented from 1995 to 2017 by inventors located in 170 countries. Our analysis shows an annual growth rate of 10% from 1995 to 2012 in these high-value inventions. Yet, from 2013 to 2017, the growth rate of these inventions fell by around 6% annually, likely driven by declining fossil fuel prices, low carbon prices and increasing technological maturity for some technologies, such as solar photovoltaics. Invention has remained highly concentrated geographically over the past decade, with inventors in Germany, Japan and the United States accounting for more than half of global inventions, and the top ten countries for almost 90%. Except for inventors in China, most middle-income economies have not caught up and remain less specialized in low-carbon technologies than high-income economies.

Probst, Benedict; BenYishay, Ariel; Kontoleon, Andreas; Reis, Tiago N. P. dos (2020). Impacts of a Large-Scale Titling Initiative on Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, Nature Sustainability, 3, 1019-1026. DOI

  • Across carbon- and biodiversity-rich tropical forests, titling initiatives are implemented with the goal of regularizing land tenure and decreasing deforestation. However, the effect of tenure security on deforestation is theoretically ambiguous, and credible empirical evidence is lacking. We analyse the responses of 10,647 landholders between 2011 and 2016 to a large-scale land-titling programme called Terra Legal in the Brazilian Amazon, set to regulate an area as big as Germany and France combined. Using a fixed-effects regression modelling strategy and property-level data, we managed to explore the causal chain between land titling and deforestation. Contrary to expectations, we find evidence that small and medium landholders increased deforestation in response to the programme, whereas large landholders remained largely unaffected. Landholders with property titles deforest more as crop and cattle prices increase, indicating greater market integration at the expense of conservation. Our results suggest that titling alone without greater coordination with other policies will not yield the expected environmental benefits.

Probst, Benedict; Anatolitis, Vasilios; Kontoleon, Andreas; Anadón, Laura Díaz (2020). The Short-Term Costs of Local Content Requirements in the Indian Solar Auctions, Nature Energy, 5, 842-850. DOI

  • Developing and emerging economies are implementing local content requirements to spur domestic manufacturing, though their costs and benefits are not well understood and difficult to quantify. Here, we provide an empirical assessment of the short-term costs of local content requirements using a credible counterfactual. We analyse data on government-run solar photovoltaic auctions held in India between 2014 and 2017 and exploit the fact that not all of the auctioned contracts entailed local content requirements. We find that local content requirement policies resulted in a ~6% per kWh increase in the cost of solar photovoltaic power generated from those projects when compared to similar projects not subject to the same local content requirement policy. During this three-year time period, Indian solar panels remained around 14% more expensive than international panels. We found some evidence of short-term increases in domestic manufacturing capacity, yet during this short period Indian firms did not increase market share or break into export markets.

Discussion Papers

Probst, Benedict; Holcroft, Richard; Huenteler, Joern; Balabanyan, Ani; Tipping, Andrew; Robinson, Peter (2020). Attracting Private Solutions and Participation in the Power Sector in Sub-Saharan Africa - Findings from a Survey of Investors and Financiers, World Bank Policy Research Paper, No. 9299. Washington: World Bank.

  • This paper develops a classification of investor risks and surveys 51 private investors and financiers in the power sector in Sub-Saharan Africa. The paper aims for a better
    understanding of what can be done to attract private solutions to fill the investment gap. It finds that the average investor assigns more weight to power sector policy and
    regulatory framework risks than to the wider sector and country context risks. And, despite many challenges, investors perceive three segments as ready for private solutions
    in Sub-Saharan Africa: power generation, off-grid electrification, and mini-grids. Investors see lower readiness in distribution, transmission, and retail. The paper finds
    that the average investor is forward-looking, as neither the track record of the power sector nor the firm’s personal track record is as important as the growth potential in the market. The paper uses the findings to reality-check
    data-based measures of regulatory readiness, namely the Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy and Power
    Sector Reform Index and analyzes which elements correlate best with investor sentiment to optimize and streamline these indexes accordingly. The results provide important
    lessons for governments and development partners to devise appropriate de-risking instruments tailored to the risks that
    matter most to investors.
  • https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/463381593008837784/pdf/Attracting-Private-Solutions-and-Participation-in-the-Power-Sector-in-Sub-Saharan-Africa-Findings-from-a-Survey-of-Investors-and-Financiers.pdf

Honors, Scholarships, Prizes

2023
Research Grants, Max Planck Society and Swiss National Foundation

2022
Best Scholarly Article of the Year, American Energy Society

2019
Best Ph.D. Research Prize, Early Researchers’ Conference, University of Cambridge

2017
Full Ph.D. scholarship, German National Academic Foundation (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes), Heinrich Böll Foundation and University of Cambridge (Department of Land Economy)

2016
Stipendium, German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Auslandsdienst)
LSE M.Sc. Umwelt und Entwicklung Best Overall Performance Award 2016

2014
Erasmus Honours Programm, Erasmus-Universität Rotterdam
Scholarship 2014 –2019, German National Academic Foundation (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes)

Courses

Since 2024
Postgraduate: Accelerating Net-Zero Transitions: Technology, Firms, and Policy, ETH Zurich

Since 2023
Own MBA case study: Guiding company carbon dioxide removal pre-purchases towards net-zero
Postgraduate: Diffusion of Clean Technologies (Spring semester), ETH Zurich

2022 – 2023
Postgraduate: Energy Innovation and Management (Spring semester), ETH Zurich

2021
Undergraduate/Postgraduate: Corporate Sustainability (Autumn semester), ETH Zurich

2018 – 2019
Undergraduate: Development and Sustainability (Michaelmas term), University of Cambridge

2016 – 2019
Postgraduate: Environmental Economics and Policy (Michaelmas and Lent term), University of Cambridge

2013 – 2014
Undergraduate: Academic Writing (Spring semester), University of Cambridge