5 Propuestas en energía para los Ciudadanos

Los problemas del sector energético en España son de sobra conocidos, y se pueden resumir en que tenemos unas de las tarifas eléctricas más caras de Europa debido a un exceso de capacidad de producción, que se mantiene gracias a diversas subvenciones. Ello ha provocado la desaparición de la industria renovable, el enfado de la comunidad internacional por falta de seguridad jurídica y, lo que es peor, una deuda a todos los españoles que va a durar 25 años.

De mi experiencia de lo que ocurre en EEUU, que sigue una política energética más estable, cinco propuestas para arreglar el sector y que no volvamos a llegar a donde estamos:

  1. Crear un Regulador Energético (que regule de verdad, independiente, no como la CNE) que sólo se preocupe de una cosa: mantener los precios bajos. Al estilo de las Public Utility Commissions (PUC), que existen en cada Estado del país americano. Asi se evita que sea un Ministerio (político) el responsable y las “puertas giratorias”. Para ello:
    • Que tenga las competencias de fijar los costes regulados, entre ellos la remuneración del transportista y los distribuidores, asi como cualquier coste o subvención. También los peajes de acceso a red para pequeño productores como los solares de tejado (y evitar injustos “impuestos al sol”).
    • Competencias en vigilar que el comportamiento del mercado eléctrico sea competitivo, asi como las ofertas y marketing de los comercializadores.
    • Bien dotado: 100 profesionales (economistas, ingenieros) dedicados en exclusiva a ello, personas que no les pueda engañar una gran empresa eléctrica.
    • Presidente y Consejo nombrado por el Parlamento cada 6 años. Obligatorio que esas personas tenga PhD, sin afiliación política y 10 años de experiencia en el propio organismo.
    • Todas las reuniones que mantengan con cualquier empresa, que sean públicas y grabadas en video, que ha de ser colgado en Internet.
    • Los procesos de fijación de los costes regulados, que sean procesos semi-judiciales, y públicos. De forma que si un directivo no dice la verdad, asuma responsabilidades personales.
  2. Separar las competencias que tiene Red Electrica de España (REE) de Operador del Sistema y Operador de Red. Así no habrá incentivos perversos a construir más líneas eléctricas de AT que las necesarias (ni ex-ministros presidiéndola). El Operador del Sistema (ISO), independiente y con forma jurídica de ONG, o fundación sin ánimo de lucro. (Así son en EEUU). Similar a OMIE, con el que puede fusionarse.
  3. Eliminar los pagos por capacidad y la interrumpibilidad. No tiene sentido que un país donde hay con un exceso de capacidad superior 30% (capacidad disponible frente a máxima demanda), se esté pagando por tener cobertura de capacidad disponible cuando no se va a usar (el ideal ronda el 10%). En todo caso, hacer una subasta como se hace en PJM. Muchas plantas quizás tengan que desmontarse o “hibernarse”, si se hace, por subasta.
  4. Eliminar de la factura subvenciones cruzadas y regalos autonómicos como la moratoria nuclear, el aporte insular (que los turistas paguen por lo que consumen) o la garantía del suministro al carbón. Acabar en plazos adelantados la deuda eléctrica, no tiene sentido estar pagando intereses a prestamistas por tener una tarifa electrica más barata, es hipotecarnos sin necesidad.
  5. Si se deciden incentivos a la producción de algun tipo, como renovable, que sea con incentivos fiscales (tax credits), y no feed-in tariffs, ya que se auto-financian solos y los gestiona Hacienda, siempre con mejor criterio para gastar que Industria.

 

La tarifa de la luz en España | horas más baratas hoy

Desde abril de 2014 la electricidad de la mayor parte de los consumidores españoles ha pasado a tener un precio variable cada hora. La antigua Tarifa de Ultimo Recurso (TUR), ahora se denomina Precio Voluntario del Pequeño Consumidor (PVPC) y su precio cambia cada hora y cada día, reflejando el comportamiento del mercado mayorista.

Recordemos que unos 17 millones de hogares en España tienen una tarifa de electricidad que es regulada por el Gobierno (pueden acogerse consumidores de menos de 10kW de potencia).

Esta nueva tarifa es el resultado de los precios del mercado mayorista y permite a cada hogar ahorrar dinero evitando las horas más caras y aprovechándose de las más baratas. Además, a partir de las 8 de la tarde, se puede saber los precios de la electricidad del día siguiente, por lo que es posible saber cuáles son las mejores horas para poner los electrodomésticos y aquellas otras que hay que evitar.

Esto es válido en aquellos hogares que cuenten con contadores inteligentes y que tengan contratado el PVPC, que hoy por hoy, sigue siendo la mejor opción. Es decir, aquellos consumidores que no están en el mercado libre ni tienen la tarifa de referencia (fija pero basada en el PVPC, aunque más cara). Actualmente un 30% de los contadores son inteligentes, y el resto están en proceso de renovación, con un plazo estimado de menos de cuatro años. Según la Orden Ministerial IET/290/2012, de 16 de febrero del 2012, todos los usuarios deben contar con un contador inteligente equipado en el año 2018, si bien su implantación será paulatina.

Red Eléctrica de España, como operador del sistema eléctrico español, es responsable de calcular y publicar los nuevos Precios Voluntarios para el Pequeño Consumidor (PVPC), de acuerdo con el Real Decreto 216/2014 publicado en el BOE del 29 de marzo.

precio electricidad ene España

Sin embargo, la mejor web para ver la tarifa de la luz cada hora en España de hoy es energia.guru:

  • Es la más sencilla. De un vistazo se ve la hora y precio más barato de electricidad.
  • Es la más rápida. Optimizada para que el tiempo de carga sea menor de 1 segundo.
  • Se adapta a cualquier dispositivo. Se ve bien tanto en móviles, como tabletas y ordenadores. Es 100% responsive.
  • Totalmente gratuita y actualizada a diario.
  • Envía actualizaciones via twitter @EnergiaGuru y Facebook 

¡Sigue EnergiaGuru cada día y ahorra en tu factura de electricidad!

 

8 Consejos para ahorrar electricidad y dinero

Desde abril de 2014 la electricidad de la mayor parte de los consumidores españoles ha pasado a tener un precio variable cada hora. La antigua Tarifa de Ultimo Recurso (TUR), ahora se denomina Precio Voluntario del Pequeño Consumidor (PVPC) y su precio cambia cada hora y cada día, reflejando el comportamiento del mercado mayorista.

Ocho consejos para ahorrar electricidad y dinero en su hogar:

  1. Ponga la lavadora o el lavavajillas en la hora más barata o al menos en la óptima.
  2. Reduzca o apague la calefacción o el aire acondicionado en las horas más caras.
  3. En cualquier caso, mantenga su hogar a una temperatura razonable, entre 19ºC y 21ºC.
  4. El horno es un gran consumidor, evite ponerlo en horas caras.
  5. Emplee temperaturas menores de 60ºC en la lavadora y el lavavajillas.
  6. Apague aparatos en stand-by, pueden suponer hasta un 10% de ahorro al año.
  7. En los fines de semana la electricidad suele ser más barata, aprovéchelos.
  8. … y por supuesto, revise Energia.Guru cada día para saber qué horas tendrán los precios más baratos de electridad en España.

Ahorrar dinero y electricidad es más fácil con los precios horarios del PVPC

Situación de las Renovables en EEUU

Artículo originalmente publicado en la revista EnergéticaXXI.

David Gómez Jiménez[1]

Oficina Económica y Comercial de España en Los Ángeles

Enero 2014

Un comentario recurrente entre los analistas es que EEUU nunca ha tenido una política energética definida. Y es cierto que, viendo la historia del país en materia energética, los vaivenes han sido frecuentes, en muchos casos provocados por graves problemas (carestías, enormes apagones…). Sin embargo, observando la organización política del país y las altamente variables condiciones externas (política exterior, cambios tecnológicos, descubrimientos), se entiende la gran dificultad de la toma de decisiones a largo plazo en este sector.

La política energética en EEUU recae, en la mayor parte, en los Estados, no en el gobierno federal. Ello se debe al nacimiento y desarrollo disperso que han tenido las empresas de electricidad (utilities), que se crearon desde principio de siglo como pequeñas empresas locales. Con el tiempo fueron creciendo hasta ir ocupando mayores espacios y, por la naturaleza de la transmisión eléctrica, constituyendo monopolios, que eran regulados por los Estados (a través de las Public Utilities Commissions – PUC) o autoridades locales. Ello sigue hasta nuestros días, con más de 3.200 utilities en el país, incluyendo empresas privadas, públicas, municipales e incluso cooperativas.

Quizás la primera vez que se vio la necesidad de una autoridad superior para regular el sector energético fue a partir del apagón del año 65, que afectó a más de 30 millones de consumidores por 12 horas. La segunda ocasión, sólo unos años después, fue la crisis del petróleo del 73, que agitó enormemente la conciencia de un país con un inmenso consumo energético, y que, pese a ser un gran productor, es uno de los mayores dependientes del exterior. A partir de entonces, el papel federal fue tomando mayor relevancia, sobre todo por temas de seguridad de suministro; aunque últimamente, y en menor medida, también por la concienciación medioambiental del problema del cambio climático.

Por ello, y a pesar que desde fuera del país se ve de forma contraria, el papel del gobierno federal y del presidente, en este caso Obama, es muy limitado en las decisiones finales que afectan al desarrollo energético o renovable. No obstante, sí que tiene un papel muy relevante cómo “guía de opinión” y es conocida su fuerte apuesta por la reducción de las emisiones de CO2 y el impulso a las renovables. Ello, junto con el balance de poder en las Cámaras de Representantes, modela la cantidad de incentivos fiscales, mal entendidos como subvenciones directas, que se destinan al desarrollo renovable. Aparte de ello, sí que controla el presupuesto federal a la investigación en energías alternativas, que es, y ha sido, muy elevado, lo que ha hecho que EEUU sea un líder tecnológico de renovables, aunque no en su instalación, como se verá después. Además controla un gran consumidor de energía, las agencias federales, que incluyen al ejército a través del Department of Defense (DoD). En este sentido, recientemente ha ordenado aumentar la cuota de consumo renovable para ellas hasta el 20% en 2020[2], lo que supone una buena oportunidad, donde las empresas españolas están bien posicionadas (ACS, Acciona y T-Solar están precalificadas para realizar proyectos para el DoD, entre 22 listadas).

Lo que realmente marca el desarrollo renovable a medio y largo plazo en el país son los denominados Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), que son objetivos de consumo renovable que algunos Estados se imponen (29 de los 52), y que van, por ejemplo, desde el 8% en 2025 en New York al 33% en 2020 de California o el 40% en 2030 en Hawaii. A partir de ahí, las propias utilities obligadas, supervisadas por los reguladores correspondientes, intentan que la adquisición de la nueva capacidad renovable sea lo más barata posible para el consumidor. Por ello, los proyectos se cierran a través de PPAs (Power Purchase Agreements) individuales con precios muy competitivos. Por ello, se estima que más del 80% de los RPS se han alcanzado gracias a la eólica, que es, en general, la tecnología renovable más barata actualmente[3].

Los incentivos fiscales actúan como catalizador en la consecución del PPA y de la financiación posterior del proyecto, y modulan la evolución de la instalación renovable en el corto plazo. La reducción de la carga impositiva al generador renovable, se traduce en ofertar un menor precio del PPA, por lo que, en realidad, los incentivos son una subvención a la utility y finalmente, al consumidor, que compra la energía renovable más barata. Aunque existen multitud de incentivos, los más importantes son los federales, Investment Tax Credit (ITC) y Production Tax Credit (PTC), junto con otras medidas como el cash grant y el loan guarantee, que ya no están disponibles. Los incentivos están continuamente en debate, dentro de una cuestión más general que es la política fiscal, que incluye otras muchas medidas e incentivos, y que ha sido famosa por las peculiares situaciones a las que ha llevado al país en 2013, bautizadas como Fiscal Cliff y Sequestration. Como resultado, en los últimos dos años, muchos de estos incentivos se han eliminado o reducido.

No obstante, aunque se realizaran completamente los RPS, que tienen un horizonte a partir del 2020, ello sólo supondría alrededor de un 10% renovable (sin incluir la gran hidráulica) en el mix de generación. Actualmente, las renovables suponen alrededor del 5,2% del total (más un 6,7% adicional de la gran hidráulica). De esa cifra, el 3,3% es eólico, el 1,4% biomasa, el 0,3% geotérmica y solar apenas llega al 0,2% del total[4].

Los RPS también están continuamente en debate dentro de cada Estado, y su aumento o disminución dependerá en gran medida de la evolución de los hidrocarburos no convencionales (Shale gas / Tight gas), que representan una revolución en el país y han abaratado los precios del gas natural para generación. Además reducen la dependencia energética externa y las emisiones de CO2 (si se utiliza para sustituir carbón, lo cual no está claro que vaya a ocurrir), siendo, en este sentido, el gran competidor de las renovables.

A continuación se va a repasar el estado de cada sector por tecnología.

Eólica

Como se ha comentado, es la tecnología preferida por sus bajos costes, siempre que exista recurso y no haya problemas ambientales relevantes como migración de aves. Actualmente existen algo más de 60GW instalados, siendo Texas el primer Estado, seguido de California y Iowa, según la asociación del sector, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA[5]).

La evolución de la potencia instalada ha dependido históricamente de la disponibilidad del incentivo PTC, que ha sufrido diversas cancelaciones y posteriores extensiones. Ello ha ocurrido también en los últimos años. Disponible inicialmente hasta 2012, la ausencia de acuerdo en su extensión provocó que ese año fuera record en instalación, con más de 13.000MW instalados, provocando la histeria por acabar los proyectos en curso para aprovechar la subvención. Finalmente, se acordó in-extremis, el último día del año, su extensión hasta el 2013, pero permitiendo que los proyectos terminen su construcción en los años siguientes. Con el fin del 2013, el incentivo ha expirado y no se ha conseguido su renovación, aunque la industria sigue presionando por ello.

Esta incertidumbre regulatoria ha provocado que, paradójicamente, siendo el 2012 un año histórico, en el 2013 se hayan instalado sólo 1.084MW en todo el país, 12 veces menos que el año anterior. Sin embargo, por la misma razón de aprovechar el PTC, ha sido el año record de proyectos que empiezan la construcción, con más de 12.000MW, que se terminarán en los próximos años. Como se ve, la política del incentivo PTC es lo que marca la evolución del sector.

En cuanto a eólica offshore, en 2013 se logró el hito de iniciar la construcción del que será el primer parque eólico offshore del país, el proyecto de Cape Wind[6], en la bahía de Nantucket, Cape Cod (MA), tras más de 12 años de permisos y litigios.

Solar Fotovoltaica

A diferencia de la eólica, la energía fotovoltaica no para de crecer en EEUU. En el tercer trimestre del 2013 alcanzó la marca de los 10GW instalados, y se estima, a falta de los datos finales, que en el total del año se hayan instalado alrededor de 4.200MW, según la asociación SEIA[7]. California es el Estado con mayor capacidad instalada, seguido de lejos por Arizona y New Jersey, este último gracias a una agresiva política de penalización por incumplimiento de los objetivos RPS.

El descenso de precios globales y la certidumbre regulatoria del país, ha propiciado que cada año se haya ido superado las cifras de instalación anteriores. En este caso, el incentivo preferido es el ITC, que tiene prevista su expiración en 2016, lo que concede un horizonte estable en el medio plazo. Después de ese año existe una total incertidumbre, por lo que se prevé un aumento continuo en la instalación antes de que llegue esa fecha para aprovechar el incentivo.

Por potencia instalada, el segmento de utility-scale (>1MW) es líder en capacidad y sigue creciendo. Sin embargo, el tamaño comercial (entre 10kW y 1MW) permanece prácticamente constante y está siendo rápidamente alcanzado por el segmento residencial (<10kW), que está experimentando un importante auge gracias al third-party ownership. Está modalidad consiste en que la empresa financia totalmente la instalación al dueño, que la paga mensualmente gracias a los ahorros, siendo rentable sólo si la utility local permite cierto autoconsumo o net-metering, al que, en general, suelen oponerse. La empresa pionera y líder en este campo es SolarCity, creada por los primos de Elon Musk (Tesla), y que cotiza en el NASDAQ desde finales del 2012.

La fuerte competencia entre los promotores de fotovoltaica, resulta en unos precios muy competitivos y fuerza a una importante concentración vertical, donde los propios fabricantes se ocupan de la promoción. Es claro el ejemplo de First Solar, que además de ser uno de los mayores fabricantes a nivel mundial es, de lejos, el mayor instalador del país. Esto deja poco espacio a promotores pequeños o extranjeros para acceder al mercado

La solar térmica de baja temperatura es casi inexistente, salvo en tejados de algunas regiones con mucha irradiación, como Arizona, o precios energéticos muy elevados, como Hawaii.

Termosolar

La solar térmica de concentración vive actualmente un momento agridulce. Por un lado, entre finales del 2013 y principios del 2014 se están poniendo en marcha proyectos que suponen la mayor adición de capacidad termosolar de la historia en EEUU. Sin embargo, ningún proyecto nuevo ha empezado la construcción en los últimos dos años, y los pocos que se encuentran en desarrollo, están atrapados en las fases de permisos o financiación.

En total, más de 1.300MW termosolares adicionales estarán online próximamente, donde las empresas españolas han tenido un papel protagonista, siendo promotores, ingenieros, constructores, tecnólogos o suministradores. Los proyectos, que son la culminación de un desarrollo de más de cinco años, se reparten en la zona suroeste del país[8]: Abengoa, con Mojave y Solana (280MW cada uno, cilindroparabólico), BrightSource, con Ivanpah (392MW, torre), Solar Reserve – Cobra, con Crescent Dunes (110MW, torre) y Nextera – Sener, con Genesis (250MW, cilindroparabólico).

Entre los que están en desarrollo, los más avanzados son los de Rice (Solar Reserve – Cobra, 150MW, torre), que tiene todos los permisos y PPA, pero no financiación, y Palen (BrightSource – Abengoa, 500MW, torre) que todavía no tiene todos los permisos.

El fin del apoyo federal como avalista, (gracias al loan guarantee, clave para el desarrollo de los proyectos actuales), los importantes requisitos de la tecnología y el auge del gas natural, dibujan un futuro muy incierto para la termosolar en el país.

Conclusiones

Aparte de las tecnologías comentadas, está la biomasa, que ha ido perdiendo cuota por su crecimiento lento y difícil, al igual que en el resto del mundo. Sin embargo, destacan algunos proyectos de biocombustibles, como el de Abengoa en Hugoton, Kansas. Y otras tecnologías, como la geotermia o la marina, se reducen a lugares y proyectos muy concretos. La cogeneración es posible que aumente su cuota por la mayor disponibilidad de gas natural.

En resumen, el desarrollo renovable en el país se encuentra en un punto de inflexión. Es probable que continúe su avance, pero a menor nivel que en los años precedentes, dado que se están alcanzando los objetivos marcados y que es improbable que estos aumenten a corto o medio plazo. La gran expectación que hay en los combustibles fósiles extraídos con técnicas no convencionales supone una fuerte competencia en las decisiones de los responsables de planear el futuro energético del país.


[1] Ingeniero Industrial (UPM), Diplomado en Empresariales (UNED). Director Departamento de Energía.

[3] AWEA State RPS Market Assessment 2013, John Hensley, 2013

[4] Ver www.eia.gov

[5] Ver www.awea.org

[6] Ver www.capewind.org

[7] Ver www.seia.org

I will buy your gas tomorrow

Introduction

Our world and society have changed in the two last centuries more than in the two last millennia. The innovations born at the Industrial Revolution have modified our way of living probably only comparable to the Neolithic Revolution, when humans leaved their nomads lives to settle in cozier places thanks to agriculture.

The turning point that motivated Industrial Revolution was to learn how to dominate heat for generating power and how to use this power. Moreover, the prior changes on the structure of the civil society allowed the raise of innovation and scientific research. The last four or five generations of humans have understood and modified the world more than the hundred generations before. The changes have been so profuse and fast that today we are still catching up.

Nevertheless, probably these changes would not have taken place so quickly without the tremendous energy provided by fossil fuels. As it is known, fossil fuels were formed by natural processes such as anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms. Millions of years ago, those organisms processed CO2 and water to create high-energy chemical compounds, through the mechanism of photosynthesis. Those compounds evolved over geological time till what they are today, sometimes exceeding 650 million years. In other words, they are sun energy stored and chemically processed long time ago.

Unfortunately, burning fossil fuels is not free. They have condemned our society to two big issues which are getting worse every day, little by little, and that will probably drive to catastrophic consequences. The first problem is that fossil fuels are not infinite. Despite reserves of fossil fuels are expanding along with new exploration and techniques, some day they will end. Forecasts say that we will have oil for one or two centuries but coal will last three or four centuries more, under current consumption. The second big problem is related to a combustion product, the CO2 (burning is actually reversing the formula that created fuels). That gas is probed to be responsible for the global warming effect. The consequences of the generalized increase of earth temperature are unknown and under discussion, but there is consensus in that it is not prudent to modify a complex system as a planet ecology. This problem is closer in time and there is great literature and possible solutions (sequestration, cap-and-trade, quotas, CDMs…) to avoid or mitigate it, despite no one of the solutions have achieved to be effective enough to solve the problem.

This paper is focused on the first problem, especially oil which is used mainly for transportation. The common response to the issue is related to fuels substitutes. As oil becomes scarce, its price will rise, and today expensive substitutes will be profitable then, addressing to a smooth transition (Simon, 1996). Despite that could be probably true, there are some authors (Meadows, 1972; Barbier, 2005) who warn that this transition can slow down economic growth and cause a miserable crisis for a long time. Nevertheless, our bad decisions today are definitely creating challenging issues for future generations. There is an important intergenerational externality here, which is causing sub-optimal economic decisions from a broad time point of view. There is not only a moral o ethic problem here; I believe that this is an economic problem that should be faced by any responsible social planner.

Our current human generation should not be the only owner of the earth gratitude in terms of resource availability. Similar to a free rider in a public bus, we are taking advantage of the world endowment of energy. In thermodynamic terms, out rate of entropy generation (that is order or energy degradation) is greater than the system order creation (mainly by the sun supply), addressing to a non-sustainable equilibrium.

In this paper, I will try to address this economic problem and pose solutions or elements to take into account to solve it. The ideal conclusion would be to answer the question How much I owe you for using oil today, so avoiding you from using tomorrow?

Intergenerational externalities as a particular case of the Tragedy of the Commons

From my point of view, the biggest problem of capitalism is that the system confuses value with price. The dogma is that the value of the goods is the price that any consumer is willing to pay for it. In other words, for things that does not have price or its price is zero, they have no value or they are useless. For instance, nobody would pay a penny for a can of pure air or for knowing that there is an animal similar to the elephant with a horn in the face. However, nobody would say that clean air or black rhinoceros (an animal about to extinct) are worthless. Worthless means that your utility (or satisfaction) is the same having or not the good. Obviously nobody can be equally happy with clean air than with contaminated, as well as, nobody could say that watching a rhinoceros in a zoo or TV cannot cause someone else´s satisfaction.

Nevertheless, under our current economic and social scheme, these things have not price, or it is very difficult to determine, because, actually, there is not a market for them. That end in economic problems, like depletion, abusing, scarcity or injustice. That is what is known in economics as externalities. The common definition for externalities is a cost or benefit that is not transmitted through prices in that it is incurred by a party who was not involved as either a buyer or seller of the goods or services causing the cost or benefit. Quantify externalities is the hard part and the challenge for our current economic model.

As it has been said, the root of the problem is to set the price for those goods that are not traded in a market. One common resulting issue is what is known as the Tragedy of the Commons, that can be summarized in the depletion of a shared resource by individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one’s self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to the group’s long-term best interests.

There are many examples of this problem. In the figure below, some examples have been plotted considering the time to suffer the issue and the time required to solve the issue, with the current technology and knowledge, approximately. Note that the scale is logarithmic and that some issues do not have possible solution (or the time to solve them is infinite).

Sustainability issues, time to solve vs time to occur

Moreover, two lines have been projected, marking the area of influence of each human generation, which, for developed countries, could be considered for simplicity around a century. The area between axis and dotted lines (<100 years) is the temporal limit when the acts of a generation can be seen and can be solved within itself. That is to say, issues in that area could be, in theory, easy to solve or avoid for rational consumers, since they personally can see the results of their actions.

That happens in real world. There are successful mechanisms and examples that have solved these issues. For instance, the Montreal Protocol for protect the ozone layer, the cap-and-trade program of EPA for SO2 emissions that provoke acid rain, or toll highways for reduce traffic. In general, problems that can be solved (or regenerated) in less than a century (under horizontal dotted line), can be solved setting up a quota. However, a quota is almost useless for nuclear waste or oil consumption, since the problem will occur sooner or later.

Another important factor is that the time to problem was under the limit when the current generation can suffer the issue or think that they are in charge to solve it (on the left of the vertical dotted line). In this case, it is feasible that different governments achieve an agreement to put a limit in the shared good or, at least, everyone agrees in that the problem does exist. There are still many advocates that doubt about the climate change or even the depletion of fossil fuels (for instance, John Skvarla, secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in North Carolina), as new reserves or methods (as fracking) are emerging. The common response is to rely on future innovation to get rid of the issue. It seems risky to trust in scientists that are not born yet, for clearing up problems that we have not been able to solve.

There is an ancient implicit psychological factor in all of this. Despite we usually take care of our children, it is very difficult to make decisions thinking in more than two or three generations. The uncertainty of our lives, tend to overvalue the present to the future, and that can represent a failure from the complete timeline view. Our capitalist economy follows this principle, and the rate is the inflation. Money today values more than tomorrow, or translating in goods, a gallon of gas today values more than tomorrow, so, for us, it is worthier to burn it today. But maybe, the demand and human needs of tomorrow are greater than today, so, actually, a gallon of gas could value much more in future than today. This is what happens with exhaustible resources. However, it can be difficult to ask an oil producer to not sell oil today and leave it to his great grandchildren to use it for making more profit.

This type of issues are called intergenerational externalities, that is, cost or benefits that are not transmitted through current prices and are assumed by future consumers. They are, in fact, a Tragedy of the Commons case when more than one human generation is involved.

Current and future generations have limited opportunities for trade or coordinate polices, and, moreover, it would be an asymmetrical negotiation, when the current generation has an advantageous position over the future ones. So, traditional solutions as Coase’s theorem, quotas or prohibitions are ineffective methods, as it can be seen in real world, where the problems on the upper-right corner remain unresolved.

The economics of exhaustible resources

The first economist who studied these issues in depth was Hotelling in 1931. As he stated in the first lines of his article, contemplation of the world’s disappearing supplies of minerals, forest and other exhaustible assets has led to demands for regulation of their exploitation. The feeling that these products are now too cheap for the good of future generations, that they are being selfishly exploited at too rapid rate, and that in consequence of their excessive cheapness they are being produced and consumed wastefully has given rise to the conservation movement. He studied the case from the producer point of view in different market cases as competition, monopoly or oligopoly. The concern, at that time, was to find the appropriate rate of extraction that maximize the ‘total utility’, since restricted exploitation could raise prices over benefiting producers, but excessive production could sink the prices and bankrupt producers. His conclusion is called the Hotelling’ rule: the most socially and economically profitable extraction path of a non-renewable resource is one along which the price of the resource, determined by the marginal net revenue from the sale of the resource, increases at the rate of interest. His work laid the foundation for further research in the field of non-renewable resource economics, and derived from the classic model called cake-eating economy.

Before the 1970s, serious attention was not given to Hotelling’s views regarding economics of exhaustible resources. Great Depression and World Wars recoveries were more impending issues. However, the oil crisis on 70s, and the work of Meadows and the Club of Rome, set off another period of intense public concern for natural resources.

The reality is not so simple as the Hotelling model, since, there are capital and/or technical change that can compensate for the decrease of the resource. That has been deeply studied by economist as Solow (1974), Stiglitz (1974) or Dasgupta and Heal (1974, 1979), who have cared about how to maintain growth in an economy based on exhaustible resources. Under different hypothesis, they conclude that an optimal path of extraction with a positive consumption exists if the discount rate is high enough. Then, the declining use of the resource is compensated for by capital accumulations. In simple words, if the yields of the capital investment (and technology development) are high enough to compensate the lost of the resource, then exhaust the resource would not badly affect the economy. Similar conclusions are posed using the maximum criterion or Rawls’s criterion: if the elasticity of output with respect to capital is greater than that of the resource used, then a sustainable positive level of consumption exists. That introduces the concept of efficiency, meaning that it could be sustainable if what you obtain by using a resource (for instance, a car moving) is greater than the value of that resource (oil) used.

Nevertheless, it is not clear what should be the sustainable discount rate in the case of oil, or what is the actual value obtained for using oil. So the solutions go from not using the resource at all (total conservationism or ‘dictatorship of the future’) to using it at a certain rate (‘dictatorship of the present’).

Moreover, these economic models do not cope with intergenerational equity or altruism questions; and they do not take into account the fact described in previous paragraphs, about the discrepancies between the today decision maker and the future affected. For that reason, the overlapping generations (OLG) framework have been used recently to address the problem. Different models and assumptions have been studied by Howarth (1991) o Gutierrez et al. (2003).

Another interesting example of sub-optimal economic allocation due to intergenerational externalities has been recently studied by Lazkano (2012), using the OLG model and regarding the positive externality of research and development in clean energies. In her work, it is demonstrated that as consumers do not care about the effect of capital accumulation on future pollution, their demand for clean technologies is not sufficiently high to offset the negative effect on the environment. Moreover, the economy’s transition from dirty to clean technologies, […], might not occur because of the insufficient demand for clean technologies. And as a result, when agents care little about the environment, environmental quality not only deteriorates but economic growth can be negative.

That represents a market failure. In the same way, not compensate future generations for consuming an exhaustible resource implies that the current demand of oil can be greater than the optimal and the oil price lower than the optimal. That price probably is not high enough to encourage investigation and investment in substitutes as renewable sources. That results in an inferior rate of substitution and a delay in the transition, letting some future generation to assume these costs and facing lower economic growth.

All of the previously commented models try to find the optimal solution or the best extraction path. Another approach has been currently studied by other economists as Martinet et al. (2006), focusing on feasible solutions, that is, viable development paths that can be or not the optimal. With that, they lower the requisites for achieving a sustainable economy and find interesting conclusions.

Trying to calculate a figure to add to the current price of oil can be hard and it will need more time and effort than the scope of this paper, but, however, I will try to contribute with some ideas with a simple example, in the next section. That quantity should be a tax on the consumption of oil specifically designated to investigate in oil substitutes (increasing technology development) or a ‘green’ fund for future generations (increasing capital accumulation).

The cake of oil

Let’s imagine a simpler and graphical example of what we are discussing here. Imagine a cake that is sliced in 20 pieces. Imagine that there is a cue of 20 people waiting for eat one piece everyone. Each person can take as many as pieces he or she wants and are on the plate at that turn, and they cannot discuss between them, only with the next or two next persons on the cue. They would be happy just eating one piece (1/20), but if they take more, it is ok.

The first person in the line can perfectly take all of the cake, eat one piece and throw away the rest, but he does not so because the second person is watching out and he does not want to be a bully. However, he takes two pieces (2/20), one more just in case he gets hungry again. The second person does the same, and so the third and the rest ones (maybe the ninth and tenth would take only one regarding the almost empty plate, but it doesn’t matter). The problem arises with the eleventh and following, because there is not more cake on the plate. So ten people are more than happy but other ten are very disappointed because they eat nothing; and moreover, the first tenth have already left the fiesta¡

If you have gone to any party, you know that this is possible to happen. Now, just substitute the cake for an exhaustible resource as oil, and each person in the line for a complete generation, and you have our oil-based economy. It is obviously much more complicated in reality, because that cake can produce other outputs, there are substitutes for it, and the price fluctuates pushed by momentary offer and demand. All of these assumptions are considered and studied in the articles mentioned before.

Looking at the historical prices of oil, plot below (inflation adjusted, red line), it can be seen a great stability in prices until the oil crisis, that seems a steady and pace cake-eating model. It reminds me to the first lucky tenth. From the 70’s the prices started to fluctuate, due to the decisions of some of the people to keep some of the cake for rising prices (let’s call them party-poppers?) and the crazy new game called ‘trade the cake’ where the party animals play to exchange pieces of cake betting some money.

History of oil prices without inflation

Maybe, the simple cake example could be solved just by imposing a quota (a sign with ‘please one piece by person’), but imagine an infinite cue with people with bigger or lower necessities. That bring to us to what has been posed in previous paragraphs, how to define an extra price or define the externality for consuming today an exhaustible resource on future generations? How create a market where consumers do not exist yet? It would be difficult to get this number but one thing it is clear, it has to be something.

This type of economic and social justice problems considering generation’s distribution have been addressed by some oil-producers countries and regions. Some countries and regions have established the so-called permanent funds, which are sovereign investment funds where the royalties for resource exploitation are saved and re-invested, letting future generations to enjoy the benefits of the resource endowment. Some examples are the Alaska Permanent Fund, the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan, the Future Generations Fund of the State of Kuwait or probably the largest one, the Government Pension Fund of Norway, previously known as The Petroleum Fund of Norway. These funds were not actually created with the objective to allocate benefits among generations; despite it is a consequent benefit. They were created to avoid the problems known as the Resource Curse, Paradox of plenty or Dutch Disease, which refer to the paradox that countries and regions with an abundance of natural resources, tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources. This is hypothesized to happen for many different reasons, including a decline in the competitiveness of other economic sectors (caused by appreciation of the real exchange rate as resource revenues enter an economy), volatility of revenues from the natural resource sector due to exposure to global commodity market swings, government mismanagement of resources, or weak, ineffectual, unstable or corrupt institutions. That is probably happening nowadays in North Dakota, where the boom of the exploitation of shale oil is creating a great inflation in costs (outsize prices in rents, salaries, etc) that are drowning other non-oil related business. (Dobb, 2013).

The royalties are dedicated to the fund, which give it back to citizens as a yearly dividend (in some cases like Norway, that amount is determined by the Constitution). That resolves partially the inflation effect through sterilization and providing a stable revenue stream. As a consequence, allocate the benefits of exploitation among time, compensating future generations of the country for emptying the resource endowment. Nevertheless, that is not being done in a worldwide basis, creating a future problem of injustice.

Conclusions

In this paper, some relevant problems and ideas related with exhaustible resource exploitation have been posed. It is clear that allocating benefits and cost between different generations drives to economic issues than are not totally resolved. As many other current problems of our society, solutions and decisions should be taken considering the whole world and next generations.

Probably the existing system of resource extraction and consumption is not the best solution and is creating a problem that must be dealt by future generations. How to find the best answers is now under debate by economists. Nevertheless, there are some solutions running as the permanent funds, which should be adopted and considered as a regular basis. Moreover, I think that the investment policy of these funds should be oriented to projects that achieve reduce or eliminate the dependency on the resources that feed them. Otherwise, the future is probably compromised.

So, if we would want to buy the gas of our great grandchildren, we should start to save money now, since, they are actually paying part of our gas today.

References

  • Barbier Edward B., Natural resources and economic development, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005
  • Dasgupta, P., Heal, G., The optimal depletion of exhaustible resources, Poceedings of the Symposium on the Economics of Exhaustible Resources, 1974
  • Dasgupta, P., Heal, G., Economic Theory and Exhaustible Resources. Cambridge University Press, 1979
  • Dobb, E., The New Oil Landscape. National Geographic, 2013
  • Gutierrez, M.J., Agnani, B., Iza, A., Growth in overlapping generation economies with non-renewable resources, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 2003
  • Hotelling H., The Economics of Exhaustible Resources, The Journal of Political Economy, 1931
  • Howarth, R.B., Intertemporal equilibria and exhaustible resources: an overlapping generations approach, Ecological Economics 4, 1991
  • Meadows Dennis L., The limits to Growth, Pan Books Ltd, 1972
  • Lazkano I., Intergenerational Externalities and Sustainable Growth, 2012
  • Schilling M., Chiang L., The Depletion of Non-renewable Resources for Non-sustainable Externalities as an Economic Development Policy, CPSA Annual Conference, 2009
  • Simon Julian L., The Ultimate Resource, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1996
  • Solow, R.M., Intergenerational equity and exhaustible resources, review of economic studies, Proceedings of the Symposium on the Economics of Exhaustible Resources, 1974
  • Stiglitz, J., Growth with exhaustible natural resources: efficient and optimal growth paths, Proceedings of the Symposium on the Economics of Exhaustible Resources, 1974

Volunteering at Grid Alternatives. Installing PV for low-income

I have always believed that the technology has to serve the citizens as a way of prosperity and social equilibrium. In that sense, I have participated in one of the best experiences of my live as engineer and specialist in energy: volunteer for installing solar PV panels for a low-income family in Los Angeles.

The brilliant idea of the nonprofit Grid Alternatives is to bring the benefits of solar technology to communities that would not otherwise have access, providing needed savings for families, preparing workers for jobs in the fast-growing solar industry, and helping clean our environment. So, they address all of the triple bottom line’s objectives. They basically install solar PV for free on low-income roofs. Panels and equipment is finance by donations at manufacturers’ special prices, and the labor comes from volunteers.

I knew about them at UCLA and I loved the idea. Several months ago I registered and I did the orientation session, where they explained basic safety and installation issues. I was surprised because the majority of the volunteers are unemployed people who want to gain experience on solar PV installations, to get a job. It is ironic that, at the end, the most generous persons are those who are more needy.

After several months of being waitlisted (they have more volunteers than projects to accommodate), I could get a spot. The home was located very closed to Compton, which is sadly infamous in LA for its heavy concentration of gangs and gang violence, ranked as the 8th most dangerous city in the country by FBI, but being the place where probably gangsta rap sub-genre born (Ice Cube, etc). Nevertheless, it did not seem so dangerous to me, it actually has a very similar look to many parts of my home town, Madrid.

The house was one story with a back and a nice front yard. We installed 20 panels of the brand Sun Power, probably E-19 series(245W/each), in two racks of 14 plus 6. The first day we installed the footers and rails where the panels would be fixed, on the second day, with the electrical connections. It is frankly surprising see how the panels generate voltage between the two terminals when you measure it with a multimeter, even if they are not facing the sun. Such a wonderful technology¡

After two days of pace and relaxed work, drilling holes, screwing bolts, joining wires and pouring glue, the work was finished, and the installation running¡

Solar PV Installation in Compton - Grid Alternatives

Donations to Grid Alternatives

Energy Policies for US from a Public Health, Environmental & Economic viewpoint

1.     Introduction

The US faces important challengers for defining their energy policy. The US has a strong dependence on fossil fuels, and despite it is one of the biggest producers of them, they are, by far, the biggest consumer, so it relies greatly on imports. That implies geopolitical issues as well as security concerns. From the environmental and health point of view, a combination of economic liberalism, plenty availability of natural resources and ‘not-in-my-backyard’ policies have lead the young country to not concern about environment so much as European countries where these problems are perceived closer. That can be seen, for instance, in the high level of pollution of some places in the US, the lack of commitment with the Kyoto protocol or the individual car-based transportation system.

Nevertheless, the good availability of resources and the adequate economic situation (maybe not the best nowadays, but for sure better than the rest of the world) could facilitate the necessary change to a greener economy if the political will is strong enough.

In the graph bellow, the sources and sinks of the energy consumption of the US can be seen. Almost 80% of the energy comes from dirty and finite fossil fuels, mainly petroleum. The two main consumers sectors are Transportation (27%) and Electric Power (38.6%). 

Sources and Use of Primary Energy in the US

Transportation is a big contributor to the energy, environment and health issues in the country. There are many policies which can be implemented in this area but the dependence on liquid fuels and the spread US neighborhood development are two important obstacles for the development of a new transportation system.

The first difficulty is partially solved by current technology. There are available new types of fuels but all of them still have relevant difficulties to trigger a change in the market. Hydrogen is not produced in enough quantities yet, in addition of the security concerns related with the great inflammability of the gas. Biofuels are already introduced, but the competition with food markets and the difficulties for introduce biodiesel in the US market (lack of diesel fleet and gas stations network) are important issues yet. Natural Gas (NG) vehicles face the same problems; despite the low price of NG makes interesting this fuel for transportation, mainly feasible for trucks. Electric Vehicles (EV) are in the radar nowadays as the solution, but they will need a change in the electric sector first, to be a real environmental and energy solution (since an EV today is actually powered by coal, NG, nuclear and a little bit of renewables). In addition, the less autonomy issue is an obstacle for consumers, despite technology is improving it very fast.

The spread US neighborhood development is a great difficulty for setting up an efficient and economically feasible public transportation system in mostly cities within US. Some important programs are being implemented nowadays, as Los Angeles metro expansion, high-speed rail in California, and others, but it seems difficult that they will imply a great change in energy consumption in the whole picture. They are actually more focused on solve traffic congestion and local pollution problems.

So, despite Transportation has an important role in the US energy puzzle, it might be very difficult to produce important changes through policies in a short term. However, actions in Electric sector could be more effective and relevant in modifying the energy consumption pattern. Indeed, Electric sector is the biggest consumer with a 38.6% of the total energy usage. Electric sector consumption comes mainly from the activity of ‘Generation’, that is actually, the transformation of primary fuels into electric fuel or electricity, easier to transport and use for innumerable machines. Generation also is responsible for the majority of the air pollution and green house gases (GHG) emission in the sector. (Some emissions are produced in transportation due to SF6 gas used in switchgear, but we can avoid it in this whole picture).

Generation is an activity pursued mainly by electric utilities and some independent power producers (IPP) and, despite there are some thousand of power plants, it could be easier to regulate and address them than convince almost 200 million drivers to switch to brand new EVs or public transportation. In addition, technical solutions to deal with the problem are already plenty available.

This paper is going to be focused on it, trying to propose policies for the Electric power sector for addressing the energy issue in the US. First, the current situation of electric generation is going to be exposed, as start point for posing policies recommendations. In addition, forms of implementation are going to be suggested, extremely important in a huge country where federal, state and local administrations share the authority on the power sector.

2.     US Electric power sector

The U.S. electric power grid serves more than 143 million residential, commercial, and industrial customers, through more than 6 million miles of transmission and distribution lines owned by more than 3,000 highly diverse investor-owned, government-owned, and cooperative enterprises; resulting in probably the biggest and complex machine in the world.

Nevertheless, there is not a unified national policy on power sector, and the majority of the competences are held by States in a very heterogeneous way, and only some general interest and security issues are responsibility of the Federal government (through FERC and DOE). Important issues as the generation mix, rates, utilities regulation are State competences. (in many cases, even counties or cities competences).

The current market organization is the result of more than 100 years of evolution. The first electric system was set by Thomas Edison in New York in 1882 for serving 59 light consumers in Wall Street. The plant which powered that system was called Pearl Street Station and it generated DC current from a coal-fired steam generator. From that, the market was growing pushed by technology innovation. Regulations and laws were catching up when they were required for ordering the market and provide a scheme through clients and companies were protected, or when terrible blackouts occurred (for example in 1965 and 2003).

The resultant model today, is a complex system where the vertically-integrated utility is the most usual model, but liberalized markets also exist. Vertically integrated means that the utility is a little monopoly in the zone where it serves, doing generation, transportation, distribution and supply of electricity. The oversee of this monopoly is assigned to state regulators, called Public Utility Commissions (PUC), or municipal governments (as the case of LADWP). These regulators set the rates and approve new plants and lines, among other functions. There are about 3,200 utilities, 2,200 Publicly-owned but only represent 17% of sales and 818 are cooperatives with 12% of sales. The 242 remaining are Investor-owned, and they are most important ones since they represent almost 60% of sales.

US Sources of Electricity Generation About power generation, currently the main source continues being coal (42%). Natural gas represents a 25% and nuclear plants the 19%. Renewable are the 13%, being 8% hydro power, 3% wind, 1,4% biomass, 0,4% geothermal and solar less than 0,1%. So, despite the great political and media coverage of new renewable technologies, they actually represent a little bit of the cake. Just to compare, in countries like Spain, around 20% of the electricity in a year is only produced by the variable wind.

The plenty availability of coal in the US (second producer after China) joined with its low price (comparing historically with gas) and ease of use (few operation risk than nuclear), have ended in being the most preferred technology. However, the implications of its use on emissions are important, since coal-firing is the worst air polluter, locally and globally. Due to its solid condition and chemical composition, burning coal produces bad gases as NOx, SO2 and particles. Some poisoned mercury is also liberated due to its minimal presence in coal. All of them provoke well-known air pollution and health issues in the plant surroundings, and even farther problems as acid rain. Those issues are partially hidden by locating coal plants in remote and low populated zones. Nevertheless, the global impact as a GHG (CO2) producer is even greater. Since coal formula is mainly carbon, when reacts with oxygen, CO2 is greatly produced. NG and petroleum formulas contain more hydrogen instead, so the combustion produces less CO2 and more H2O (which is not considered a problem in global-warming curse). Burning NG generates between 40-50% less CO2 emission than coal and 25-30% less than oil. (The real average data for the US are: NG 1,135 lbs CO2/MWh, coal 2,249 lbs CO2/MWh, oil 1,672 lbs CO2/MWh, from EPA).

It means that considering the current mix and making some simple calculations, for every 1% of coal generation which was switched for NG generation, a reduction of around 1% of GHG emission will be achieved in the electric power sector, caeteris paribus. In addition, burning NG is more efficient due to the higher temperatures which can be reached (the young genius Carnot demonstrated it in 1824 with his famous equations), so for the same electrical output, less fossil fuel will be needed. Switching to nuclear or renewable will be even better, since it will produce a reduction around 3.5% in emissions per 1% of coal taken out. Switching to oil makes no sense, since oil is more valuable for transportation as liquid fuel.

So, it seems that coal is a bad guy in the US energy and environmental problems. In next section, some policies will be posed to deal with it.

Another difficulties has to be considered in power polices definition. The current power market model of regional monopoly-supervision is probably not the most adequate for introducing strong reforms which try to solve a national problem (type of tragedy of the commons here). The main concern of the regulators (PUCs, municipalities) is to guarantee supply and keep rates lower in its area, since problems related with both of them are politically sensitive. That does not leave a big margin to make experiments or push for changes, despite the California market reform in 2000 was a pretty remarkable example but a sad fiasco. The system is destined to be conservative in the investments and the results are a problematic lack of capacity in transmission lines and an old and obsolete equipment. Difficulty in building new transmission lines (owned by utilities) is a big issue in developing renewables, since, unfortunately, the places where the resource exists, are not the same where consumption is. Transmission lines usually go through territory of different utilities, regulators and States, and it is not clear how to allocate the costs of the lines in such heterogeneous jurisdiction scheme, despite the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is trying to deal with it (Order 1000).

3.     Policy recommendations

So, with all the tough restrictions those have been presented before, the definition of the US energy policy should be cautious but smart, introducing mechanisms which allow easy and small changes every year but addressed in the right direction to produce a big change in next decades scope. Small steps in the right direction lead to destiny, as a good pilgrim knows.

The principles or restrictions which drive the policy definition have to be cost-effective, politically realistic and objective-oriented. The goal is clear: reduce fuel imports, reduce emissions and allow economic prosperity.

Taking into account this, the energy policy should be focused in one simple thing: Reduce generation from coal and replace it for a combination of NG and renewables.

Local and global range emissions would be obviously reduced, and the rest of goals would be achieved without exceed the restrictions. Coal is greatly mined in the country and is relatively cheap, so doing that change cost-effective and from autochthonous sources is the challenge. Nuclear is discarded due to the great investment costs, the growing opposition after Fukushima disaster and political issues. Moreover, it is not recommended despite it does not contribute to global-warming because of the greater health risks that implies, and the unsolved solution for the nuclear waste disposal. Only one nuclear plant is being built nowadays in the US, the Vogtle project in Georgia, which will need 10 years of development and it will be the sole new nuclear project to become online since Three Mile Island accident in 1979.

Promoting renewable technologies has obvious benefits to reach the target: they do not produce emissions, they do not need import energy, they do not jeopardize lives in case of failure, and they create jobs and industry. In this sense, there is much work to do, since the current percentage of renewables in the mix is lower. However, the cost of energy produced by renewables is still considerably higher than coal, in spite of technology innovation is lowering this price every day. Till grid parity was achieved (cost of renewable equal market reference), regulators, utilities and consumers probably will not be eager to pay more for electricity. Moreover, the grid upgrades and back-up generation that they need, pushes the balance against them.

However, this over-cost can be easily minored by increasing NG generation, which also contributes to reduce emissions from the current situation. Increasing NG generation would require almost nothing new investments. In the figure below, it is presented the current coal generation (the less efficient plants in green); and in blue the generation potential of NG combined cycles already online but currently not working at plenty capacity. (in fact, these plants are working much less hours than those for they were conceived).

Fully Dispatched NGCC potential

As it can be shown, there is a great potential of switching coal to NG, at very low cost. Underutilized NG combined cycles do not need infrastructure upgrades since they are already connected to the grid and the gas supply network is more than enough to deliver all the plants. The reason why they are not plenty utilized is because coal used to be cheaper and because, in reality, utilities decide their generation program regarding their own interest (many times not lowering the cost since they are going to recover it through the negotiated rates with PUCs).

US Natural Gas ProductionUS Natural Gas and Oil price evolution

The price of natural gas has been historically growing every decade, since it used to be tied to oil (so it is in the rest of the world). But the discovery of the new ways to make profitable natural gas from shales, have revolutionized the market. The great increasing in shale gas production has sunk the prices in the last few years, and the projections predict that the availability of NG will increase in US.

However, a warning has to be done here; this fortune’s gift can become a curse if it is used as a substitute for renewables instead of for replacing coal. That would be a strong temptation unless appropriate regulation and policies were set, since in absence of GHG control, cheap gas can be converted in cheap electricity, good for utilities’ revenue and politician’s image.

To conclude, the successful energy policy would be to change coal for renewables and natural gas, balancing this combination depending on the evolution of the generation cost of both technologies and the efforts that consumers were willing to assume.

4.     Policies Implementation

It is not only important to recommend energy policy, but to suggest how implement it. And that is crucial in a country with such complex and distributed jurisdiction in power markets. Here, some ideas are going to be given to address with the practical sense of the energy reform. They are directed to different administrations, federal, state and local:

  • The definition of the strategic energy plans are nowadays responsibility of the departments of energy of every State according with its PUC. It could be more convenient that these plans (where the switch from coal to NG/renewals can perfectly be included) were agreed with a federal agency as the Department of Energy (DOE) and FERC. It makes sense since the effects of the electricity production not only involve a sole State, but the whole country (regional and global emissions, imports of fuels…)
  • Since Federal agencies have a narrow margin to impose legislation to States (litigation can convert the planning process in a nightmare), the Federal agencies can try another strategy. They can offer conditioned funds (for example those from ARRA) to those States which achieve the objectives set by Federal, for example, to reach a certain level of renewables, to coordinate energy plans, to open market for transparency, to coordinate lines with neighbor States, etc. The State have the option, not the obligation, to do the things right and get the funds (politicians would love to win them). It is making and incentive and leave competition works.
  • Municipal and local utilities should be under control of State regulators of PUCs, and the municipality governments should endorse it. Despite we respect personal freedom, it is totally unfair and biased that municipal utilities (as LADWP) do not have the obligation of the State Renewable Portfolio Standard, and they can arrange their generation structure as they want. It is unfair that, for example, in Los Angeles, consumers pay less for their electricity than in Orange County, because LADWP generates more with coal and do not have the obligation of buying renewables as SCE. And it is unfair because emissions from this decision affect equal both consumers.
  • Maintain and update the tax incentives to renewables. Without cancelling all subsidies (including those oil, gas and coal have), that it is not a bad idea at all; it is better to maintain, at least, the current incentives for renewables, as Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and Production Tax Credit (PTC). Moreover, a long term strategy should be done, to avoid the stop and go in investments that the sector suffers. Wind power is a good example, and just this year we are seeing the same stop as 2004 because the PTC has not been renewed yet for 2013. These ups and downs do renewables more expensive because companies and banks need higher loan rates to compensate the variable regulation risks.

5.     Conclusions

As it has been explained, Transportation and Electric Power sector are the two main causes of the energy consumption in the US, and both of them rely so much on fossil fuels. Transportation is mainly dependant on petroleum (94%) because, however it could be hard to understand when you visit the gas station, it is actually the cheapest liquid fuel that can be found today, with the current logistic chain. For sure that there are alternatives, but it is difficult its introduction due to the great upfront investments they need. Even the EV will not be the solution unless Electric power sector changes before.

However, decisions taken in the Electric sector can be more effective and reduce emissions and consumption. Energy efficiency improvements has not been considered in the paper, despite they are totally recommendable, because they will be probably compensated with the increase in energy demand due to population and economic growth (forecasts say that the increasing on demand will be around 1% every year, and the energy per capita will decrease slowly till a 20% of current in 2035).

In Electric sector, the most obvious action seems to be reducing dirty coal and introducing renewables (zero emissions, zero imports but still expensive) with a combination of natural gas (less emissions, no imports thanks to shale gas and cost-effective). Achieving the changes is a challenge with the current market organization and regulation, so the political determination has to be strong enough to go together in the right direction and leave apart lobbies and particular interests in order to fulfill the general interest.

 

6.     References:

Spanish Feed-in Tariffs: Killing the Golden Goose

Spain had a struggling issue in energy supply at the beginning of the 90’s. More than 70% of its primary energy sources were hydrocarbons and almost all of them were imported because there are not autochthonous reserves of oil, natural gas and only one third of all needs of coal. They were imported from countries like Russia, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria or Egypt, not very trustable from a geopolitical point of view. Moreover, the electrical markets were dominated by two vertical integrated utilities which had not been invested in new transmission capacity or new generation plants. Due to the growth of the economy, it was forecasted a important growth in energy demand (actually the demand doubled in 15 years), so the Government had to deal with a big problem, also aggravated by the environmental compromises with European Union in using renewable energy and reduce CO2 emissions.

Spanish FiT have been called as the fable of the golden eggs goose

So, the Government made important decisions to address the issue, fighting with numerous personal and private interests from utilities and the old school guys. Probably, the period from 1990 to 2010 was the moment with more energy laws and legislation passed in all the Spanish history. Following the California and UK examples, the market was liberalized, a new Independent System Operator (ISO) and owner of all transmission lines was created, Independent Power Producers were allowed to access to the grid, and important laws in supporting renewable energy sources were passed.

Nowadays, Spain is well known for being a country who is leader in the world in renewable energy technologies. Despite to be the 12th country by GDP, it achieved the fourth place in wind capacity installed, second in solar PV and it remains first in solar thermal. In 2011, the 36% of the electricity comes from renewable energies, a remarkable fact since the US only achieved 13%. In others indicators related with infrastructure (as transmission lines average age, miles of high-speed rail or miles of freeways) or with human development (mortality, education, etc), it is on the top five. Nevertheless, currently is also infamous by the struggling economic situation, difficulties to pay back the national debt and high rates of unemployment. Both achievements and failures are consequences of the decisions made, some of them related with energy. In the particular case of renewable promotion, the Spanish feed-in tariffs program (FiT) is one of the most commented, discussed and disputed energy policies in the recent years, specially the program for solar photovoltaic, who has been called for many people as the fable of Killing The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs.

The promotion of the renewable energy, as solar, wind or biomass, is an issue of how to internalize the positive externalities into the market. These benefits are well known. The clean or renewable energies, do not pollute, do not contribute to climate change, do not imply resources depletion, do generate local employment, do promote the national industry, do improve the energetic independence, and more. All of these benefits are not included in the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) or the price of the electricity. Because of that, these technologies are not competing in the same conditions as the conventional generation. That makes that the price of them is above the average price of the electricity in wholesale market, and as a consequence, the utilities do not want to build this expensive plants or to purchase expensive energy from others. This is because the benefits of the renewable energy do not go to them, but to society. That is a market failure and that is because they need the regulation or the support from the Government.

In the market, it is a basic principle that nobody, even the Government, can control the quantity and the price of a product at the same time. If you fix the price for the renewable generation (as FiT does) you do not know what will be the amount of renewable generation that you will obtain. The same, if you fix the quantity you want (as Renewable Portfolio Standards does); you do not know what will be the price for this generation. The price multiplied by the quantity is the key point, because that will be the cost for the electricity customers who are also your voters. So you have to be careful with that because otherwise you can make your citizens to pay so much for the electricity if the price by the quantity is too high, but you can make them not to gain the benefits of renewals if the renewals were not developed due to low prices which do not make the investments profitable.

In the FiT option, the government decides what will be the price of the renewable generation. That has enormous advantages for developing the renewable market because it is very easy for developers, investors and financial institutions to know what will be their retribution and the Internal Rate of Return (IRR) for their investments. It is easy to calculate the IRR and if the FiT is also well determined -the price will be a bit more than the cost of capital- then the development of renewable is smoothly and a reasonable cost for ratepayers, being society awarded with the benefits of clean generation. See Exhibit 1, with the case of wind.

Spanish wind feed-in tariff as an example of sucess
Exhibit 1. Electricity market Price (black), FiT for Wind (yellow and red) and Estimated cost for Wind (blue). This FiT was well calculated to make the investor obtain a 5-9% IRR.

Spain has become a leader in renewals thanks to FiT. The government support has been very strong and determined. The country started to use FiTs in 2000, and ten year later, the 35% of the total electrical generation is using renewals (2010). Spain has been successful implementing some FiTs, for instance in the case of wind, but has made huge mistakes in solar PV. The law ‘RD661/2007’ in 2007 was the most important piece of legislation because the most important FiT prices were determined. Prior prices were not enough for launching the market.

The key point of FiT is to determine the price of the premium. But that is difficult for a pioneer Government (and more in 2007 without other experiences) because a civil servant is not usually a solar PV developer, he does not know what are the real cost of solar modules, wires racking, etc. So the Government decided to ask the local solar PV generators associations to estimate the right price for the premium. Obviously, as much price, much profitable for the companies in the association, so they finally convinced the Government to fix a solar PV FiT that was 10 times higher than the average electrical price, and almost twice that the LCOE for Solar PV (at that time it was not so clear what was the real LCOE for PV, that, in fact, it has been strongly decreasing in the past five years). The business was so profitable (IRR above 20%) that it attracted investors from all over the world, and because it was pay by the Government, it was secured by the country bond with used to have an AAA rating, so practically at no risk.

The Government objective was 400MW of solar PV, but in only two years they got more than 3000MW. See Exhibit 2. Only the over cost of the solar PV FiT for the ratepayers is more than 2 billion of Euros every year, and considering all renewable technologies more than 6 billion. The reason why the Government did not realized before what was happening, it is because they relied on local administrations (similar to counties) for granting the permits for the solar facilities. Since local governments earned a lot with solar PV installations (jobs, taxes, votes), they did not informed the Central Government about the number of projects in the cue. In fact, they was not going to pay for the FiT, so they tried to host and grant permits for as many projects as they could.

Spanish Solar PV boom
Exhibit 2. Solar PV Objective (red) versus Solar PV actual development (blue).

Moreover, the Government decided not to increase the electrical rates, because the benefits of renewable should be paid not only for the current consumers but also by the future consumers, since renewals benefits are for different generations. So the electrical system generates every year a huge deficit that has the creative name of ‘rate deficit’, and which is accumulated as public debt (and accounted as more public debt for rating and country risk). Basically it is a debt from the ratepayers (aka citizens) to generation owners (generating companies). That debt was by the end of 2011 of more than 25 billions of Euros.

So, as the model was unsustainable, the Government finally decided, in January 2012, to cut off or suspend the FiT program, with a lot of complaints from investors and generators with projects on the way. So, since some of the causers of the over costs of the FiT model and the final breakdown of it were the own solar PV generators (trough the associations), they have been accused of killing the golden goose.

The renewable program has had additional benefits as 100,000 new employees, total contribution to GDP around 8 billion €, total exports: 3 billion €, reduction in 10,7Mtep in fuel imports (2 billion €) and savings over 370 million of € in CO2 emissions. Nevertheless the excessive cost finally collapsed the system. Now the renewable sector is accused of contributing to the tough situation of the Spanish economy. That is a good example as how careful has to be a Government when they decide the energy strategies and policies.

A monopsony is also a market failure: WalMart

Wal-Mart is one of the biggest companies in the world and the first one company in retail sales in the US. It is so big that it could be the 20th country comparing sales with GDP. So, the power and the influence of this company is measure in a world basis scale. Their sustainability policies are under discussion because it is not clear if they are really concerned about the problem or only they are washing its image with ‘green’ water.

WalMart monopsony is a market failure

Wal-Mart has been pointed as the responsible of many laid-offs of American workers because its suppliers have had to outsource their production overseas. The reason is because Wal-Mart squeezes the suppliers’ margins till insane levels.

From my point of view, it is a clear case of monopsony, which is a market form in which only one buyer (Wal-Mart) faces many sellers (suppliers). Probably is more a case of oligopsony, where few buyers faces many sellers, but the power of Wal-Mart is so big, that we can be considered a monopsony in many cases. (Remember that the rest of retail marketers are so far from Wal-Mart than it can push the price of many products in the wholesale market)

Monoposy is an example of imperfect competition, similar to a monopoly, in which only one seller faces many buyers. As the only or majority purchaser of a good or service, the ‘monopsonist’ may dictate terms to its suppliers in the same manner that a monopolist controls the market for its buyers.

The figure below shows the effect of a monopsony in a market. The price and quantity of a competitive market are tagged as Pc and Qc respectively, being the cross between the suppliers curve (S) and the demand curve (blue). Without entering in more theoretical details, the monopsonist can force the market to move according its Average Expenditure curve (Ae). Doing that, they reduce the amount of product that they buy (Qm) but, most important, they can shrink the price to Pm. The result is that they win the green area in terms of savings however they lose the red area because they buy less, but it is not a problem since red area is smaller than the green one. The suppliers lose the blue area because the sell cheaper and less quantity than the optimum. The general result is a social loss of the red and blue areas, marked with stripes. The social loss means that the society, as a whole, is away from the optimum, so it is losing welfare due to the greedy action of the buyer.

Monopsony is a market failure
Monopsony is a market failure

In the real world, this social loss is the unemployment generated by the bankruptcy of many US companies that Wal-Mart is causing. Obviously, Wal-Mart knows that, and I think they are trying to use some of the extra income they obtain with the monopsony to wash its public image with sustainability strategies, in many cases, impossible to satisfy. (For example 100% consumption from renewable, it sounds pretty ambitious in a country where the 45% of the electricity comes from coal)

Due to Wal-Mart is pushing continuously the suppliers to reduce their prices; many of them have to outsource the production to other countries, as China or India. That is not bad by itself. In fact, it is really good from an ideal framework. David Ricardo, a world famous economist, demonstrated in the XIX century that the international trade is always beneficial for both countries, since each one specializes in the products it makes better. This is called the Comparative Advantage theory. In this case, it is clear that all Americans have taken advantage of low prices that Wal-Mart offers. The inflation has maintained low thanks in part, to the big retailer strategy. That is ok in an ideal world, but the problem is that these low prices in China are not caused they are better manufacturing products, it is because they generate enormous externalities that are not reflected in the price: pollution, unfair labor conditions, etc.

So, at the end, the fail in the wholesale market is creating a social loss that compromise the long term for wining in the short term. That is the opposite definition of sustainability. Wal-Mart has not much to say or to do in sustainability without solving its ‘little’ problem with competition before.

That is market failure, and as well as the monopolies, should be regulated. The cases of monopsony are not so well-known by regulators as monopolies, but there are Acts against them. The famous Sherman Antitrust Act (1890) says in the Section 2 ‘Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, shall be deemed guilty of a felony’. The subsequent Clayton Act (1914) declares illegal: sales on the condition that the buyer or lessee not deal with the competitors of the seller or lessor or the buyer also purchase another different product but only when these acts substantially lessen competition (Act Section 3, codified at 15 U.S.C. § 14).

So the problem is known and the laws are already prepared to deal with this, so why is not being solved yet? It might be because the money that Wal-Mart uses doing lobby. According to www.opensecrets.org,  in the last four year they have expended more than 25 millions of dollars in lobbying.

http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.php?strID=C00093054

To sum up, I think that in the case of Wal-Mart we are not facing a problem of believing or not in the good promises of a big company about sustainability, we are facing a market failure, that it will not be solved only with some unhappy customers quitting from Wal-Mart, and launching a sustainable strategy to become ‘the most competitive and innovative company in the world’.

Campo base 40.805

Vamos a verlo por el lado positivo y lógico. Esta claro que no podíamos seguir ascendiendo, la falta de fans (demanda) y los altos costes de la expedición y las deudas contraídas nos estaban ahogando (déficit tarifario). Ahora, encima, otros métodos de escalada tradicionales y más baratos se estaban imponiendo (gas natural).

Pero valoremos donde hemos llegado: a 40805 MW de generación renovable. Un buen campo base para esperar unos años (tres según la CNE) y seguir progresando. Está claro que hemos llegado más lejos que otros paises, pero subir tan rápido nos ha dado mal de altura. La cima de las renovables nos espera, y a no mucha distancia.

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Evolución de la potencia instalada renovable
Evolución de la potencia instalada renovable