Rethinking African solar power for Europe

Emanuele Massetti, Elena Ricci, 23 July 2014

Concentrated solar power generation in Northern African and Middle Eastern deserts could potentially supply up to 20% of European power demand. This column evaluates the technological, economic, and political feasibility of this idea. Although concentrated solar power is a proven technology that can work at scale, it is currently four or five times more expensive than fossil fuels. Concentrated solar power could play an important role in Europe’s energy mix after 2050, but only if geo-political challenges can be overcome.

The value of electricity transmission: Evidence from a power plant closure

Lucas W. Davis, Catherine Hausman, 16 June 2014

Estimating the economic value of energy transmission is difficult because investments in transmission capacity are endogenous to market conditions. This column presents recent research that takes advantage of a natural experiment to generate a credible counterfactual. The unexpected closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in California increased generation costs by $350 million per year; it also led to increased carbon emissions worth $320 million annually.

Inferred fossil-fuel subsidies: A new database

Radek Stefanski, 30 May 2014

No comprehensive database of directly measured fossil-fuel subsidies exists at the international or the sub-national level, yet subsidies may be crucial drivers of global carbon emissions. This column describes a novel method for inferring carbon subsidies by examining country-specific patterns in carbon emission-to-output ratios, known as emission intensities. Calculations for 155 nations from 1980-2005 reveal that fossil-fuel price distortions are enormous, increasing, and often hidden. These subsidies contributed importantly to increasing emissions and lower growth.

The limited economic impact of the US shale gas boom

Mathilde Mathieu, Thomas Spencer, Oliver Sartor, 22 March 2014

The US unconventional energy boom has reversed the decline of domestic production, lowered oil and gas imports, reduced gas prices, and created political space for tougher regulations on coal-fired power plants. This column argues that it is not a panacea, however. Even if current estimates prove accurate, the long-run benefits to the US economy will be relatively small. Improving energy efficiency and promoting low-carbon technologies will be just as important as before – especially for the EU, given its more limited known reserves of unconventional oil and gas.

Is there room for more than one international currency?

Livia Chiţu, Barry Eichengreen, Arnaud Mehl, 17 March 2014

The dollar remains dominant in the global monetary system. The clearest sign for its prevailing status is the dollar’s role as an exclusive currency used in the global oil market. This column suggests that there is room for more than one international currency even in a market as homogenous as the oil one. This is consistent with the view that network increasing returns are not as strong as sometimes supposed, first-mover advantage is not everything, and incumbency is no guarantee for continued dominance.

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