Reflecting on 25 Years of Synapse

Here we are in the second Covid winter.  It feels trite to wish you a happy new year. Let’s survive. And may we thrive and learn and grow as we face a relentless series of enormous challenges. Personal and social. Technical and economic. Injustice. Climate change. The virus. 

This last trip around the sun marked 25 years for Synapse Energy Economics. Jeannie and I were, obviously, children back in 1996 (see photo for proof). 

We were naive and bright-eyed. Keen to do good work, protect energy consumers, and save the planet. We had a bit of know-how with utility planning, regulatory commissions, and expert testimony; but we had no experience whatsoever with starting a company.

I recall being at a friend’s wedding in 1996 and asking other wedding guests for advice as we contemplated starting Synapse. One person with experience at starting businesses offered that we would need a good lawyer and a good accountant—and that if we could only afford one, then be sure to go with the accountant.  A quarter-century later, Synapse has a staff of nearly 50 and still retains the same accountant. And we prefer to work for public interest lawyers.

What have we learned in 25 years of energy consulting and running a small business? Lots! Check out the list below for a few highlights from our work over the years.  And I’ll dare to step back, take a deep breath, and offer a few nuggets of advice—each of which we made sure to learn the hard way: 

Do work that’s interesting. Complicated problems can be frustrating, but they will keep you thinking and engaged over the long term.

Focus on things that are important.  If it doesn’t matter then why bother? Why not take on the biggest problems of our time?

Always be learning. Duh.

Be true to yourself. None of us have just one true self, but if you pay attention you can figure out deeper truths about who you are.  For myself, I readily embraced my early tendencies toward tenacious competitiveness and know-it-all expert witnessing.  It took a lot longer and more work for me to recognize and lean into my inner playful nerd self.

Work with great people. Collaborating with colleagues and clients can be its own pure joy.  (You know who you are!)

Check your math. Especially cancelling units, spreadsheet cell references, and orders of magnitude. Are your results generally reasonable?  Are you even doing the right calculation? 

Heaps of gratitude to everyone reading this. You’ve probably worked at Synapse or hired Synapse or relied on our work for one of your endeavors—or you will sometime over the next 25 revolutions around the sun.

Live long and prosper.

- Bruce


A Few Highlights From the Last 25 Years

1996

Bruce Biewald and Jeannie Ramey established Synapse Energy Economics to provide rigorous, independent analysis of complex energy-sector issues.


1998

The New England Governors’ Conference hired Synapse alongside Tellus Institute and Environmental Futures to design a system for tracking renewable energy in New England’s wholesale market to support renewable portfolio standards and green electricity marketing efforts.


1999

Synapse and Resource Insight authored their first report on regional avoided energy supply costs—putting a consistent value on costs saved due to improvements in energy efficiency for gas and electric utilities. This is now the present-day triennial AESC Study for New England.


2002

Founder Bruce Biewald provided the first of a series of reports on Clean Air Act enforcement cases for the U.S. Department of Justice.


2005

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) hired Synapse to assist in quantifying emissions reduction credits for clean development projects.


2006

As part of Synapse’s ongoing work related to the New England Power Pool, Synapster Doug Hurley functioned as the lead client representative for three members of NEPOOL’s Alternative Resource sector in the Forward Capacity Settlement Conferences, which led to the successful inclusion of energy efficiency and demand response in the design of New England’s capacity market.


2010

Synapse conducted analysis for the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to establish statewide GHG emissions reduction targets to satisfy Global Warming Solutions Act requirements.


2014

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released AVERT—a free and publicly available tool built by Synapse to estimate hourly emissions and generation benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy programs and policies.


2019

Synapse published a report on transforming transportation in New York, which analyzed the impact of various incremental policy changes on vehicle electrification and emissions targets. Our in-house EV-REDI modeling tool allows for impact analysis of policies such as EV rebates, pollution fees, and investments in public charging infrastructure.


2020

With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Synapse partnered with Community Action Partnership, and the Regulatory Assistance Project conducted an in-depth look at the disparate impacts electric and natural gas infrastructure have on economic, social, and health outcomes—and consider policy options to ensure an equitable clean energy future.

Synapse co-founders Bruce Biewald and Jeannie Ramey launched their own Energy Nerd Show—a weekly mini-series dedicated to dissecting environmental and energy topics with the industry’s most interesting experts.


2021

The City of Boston used Synapse’s economic and technical analysis to build and successfully pass a Building Performance Standard—part of a small group of cities with a policy to achieve a net-zero buildings sector.