Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Program on Energy and Sustainable Development Stanford University


September 9, 2005 - Op-ed

Electricity-Market Reforms and Global Climate Change

By Robert Sherman

For nearly two decades, most major developing countries have struggled to introduce market forces in their electric power systems. In every case, that effort has proceeded more slowly than reformers hoped and the outcomes have been hybrids that are far from the efficiency and organization of the "ideal" textbook model for a marketbased power system.

At the same time, growing concern about global climate change has put the spotlight on the need to build an international regulatory regime that includes strong incentives for key developing countries to control their emissions of greenhouse gases. In most of these countries, the power sector is a large source of emissions that, with effort, could be controlled.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol included mechanisms that would reward developing nations that cut emissions, but so far the performance of these mechanisms has fallen far short of their potential.

Beginning in 2002, the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development (PESD) at the Stanford Institute for International Studies (SIIS) and the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad (IIMA) have conducted a set of studies to examine the intersection of these two crucial challenges for the organization of energy infrastructures in the developing world. This research, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, examined power-market reforms and greenhouse-gas emissions in two key states in India. At the same time PESD was conducting a comprehensive study of electricity-market reforms in five developing countries (Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa) as well as detailed analyses of the greenhouse-gas emissions from three provinces in China in conjunction with other research partners.

PESD and IIMA presented their findings at a workshop on January 27-28, 2005, at Stanford University. The workshop brought together scholars studying the organization of the electric-power sector and other infrastructures in developing countries with energy policy makers, technologists, and those studying the effectiveness of international legal regimes, with the aim of not only focusing on new theories that are emerging to explain the organization of the power sector and the design of meaningful international institutions, but also identifying practical implications for investors, regulators, and policymakers.

The workshop offered diagnoses of what has gone wrong and what opportunities have nonetheless emerged. It focused on practical solutions and a look at the prospects for different technologies to meet the growing demand for power while minimizing the ecological footprint of power generation.

One of the key conclusions of the research and the workshop, as discussed by David Victor, director of PESD, is that electricity markets in the developing world have not progressed inexorably and consistently from a state-owned model to an open market-based model. Rather, much as the experience of the past ten years in the United States has demonstrated, reform of electric-power systems has proceeded differentially between parts of the industry and between jurisdictional units, with some segments of the power generation, transmission, and distribution systems still dominated by the state and some segments now fully responsive to signals from the market.

This hybrid condition-with portions of the electricity enterprise deregulated and other portions still fully regulated-has proven to be virtually universal and quite durable as well. For the most part, it also has proven beneficial to the overall operation of the system as well as to climate mitigation due to the fact that introduction of market forces to parts of the system tends to have a spillover effect, helping to improve efficiency in parts of the system that remain under state control.

Tom Heller, SIIS senior fellow, noted that the negotiations leading up to the

development of the Kyoto Protocol and subsequent discussions and experience have

demonstrated that the burden-sharing metaphor-expecting developing nations to

make a proportional investment and effort in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions-

will not be successful. Rather, as gross and per capita energy consumption increases in developing nations, which is occurring especially rapidly in China and India, policies and mechanisms that facilitate investment in efficient and clean energy production, transmission, and end-use infrastructures will need to be developed and rolled out.

The Kyoto Protocol provided a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to encourage such investment. However, the conclusion reached by practitioners developing such projects in China is that CDM is an inefficient and insufficient mechanism for fostering the magnitude of development projects that will be required to help mitigate the environmental effects of energy growth in the developing nations.

Two problems with CDM were raised at the workshop. First, the bureaucratic hurdles facing developers of CDM projects are daunting. To date no such project has received certification. Second, the Kyoto Protocol's current round of reductions targets expires in 2012, and uncertainty regarding the likely direction and form of future U.S. and European initiatives provides a disincentive to investment in CDM projects.

Alberto Chiappa, managing director of Energy Systems International, noted the good news is that in spite of these difficulties, investors are finding opportunities to develop projects to provide cleaner sources of energy and improve end-use energy efficiency. Professor P.R. Shukla of IIMA pointed out that there is a great need to align development and climate concerns if future mechanisms for climate mitigation in the developing world are to be successful.

Douglas Ogden, program officer at the Energy Foundation, noted that China has made a firm commitment to greatly increase the market share of electricity from renewable sources to 5 percent by 2010 and 20 percent by 2020 and in 2008 will adopt an automobile fuel-economy standard 20 percent more efficient than U.S. CAFE standards. Also, both China and India are engaged in developing natural gas markets in sectors traditionally dominated by coal.

Mario Pereira, director of Power Systems Research, discussed Brazil's current efforts to develop economical and efficient electricity supply through biomass-specifically ethanol derived from sugarcane bagasse. The ethanol industry was originally developed as a reaction to the oil shocks of the 1970s. Although the majority of electricity in Brazil is provided by hydroelectric projects, sugarcane ethanol has some important advantages. First, the sugarcane fields are geographically close to major centers of demand, and second, sugarcane thrives during drier periods of the year when hydroelectric production declines. The experience in Brazil thus demonstrates that renewables can provide an economically attractive source of energy for developing nations.

Looking toward the future, PESD has several projects under way pertaining to the

intersection of electricity-market reforms and global climate change. The program is expanding its research on power-market reforms through a set of case studies on independent power producer projects in ten developing nations and is also initiating a set of studies examining the introduction of natural gas to regions in India and China.

Much work remains to be done before the interface between electricity-market reform and global climate change is well understood. As energy markets in the developing world expand, addressing this question will become more and more important if we are to stabilize atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases.

Topics: Cleantech | Climate change | Coal | Electricity | Energy | Investment | Kyoto Protocol | Natural gas | Oil | Sustainable development | Brazil | China | India | Mexico | South Africa | United States | Western Europe