Category Archives: Markets 101

Capping Pollution from Coast to Coast

As the second auction in California’s landmark cap and trade program approaches, a coalition of states on the opposite side of the country – that have been cost-effectively reducing their carbon pollution while saving their consumers money – announced plans to strengthen their emission reduction goals.  Last week, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) – the nation’s first cap and trade program which sets a cap on carbon dioxide pollution from the electric power sector in 9 Northeastern states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) – released an updated Model Rule containing a number of improvements to the program, primarily a significantly lower (by 45%) overall cap, realigning it with current emissions levels.

Since the program took effect in 2009, emission reductions in the RGGI region have occurred faster and at lower cost than originally expected.  This has primarily been the result of increased electric generation from natural gas and renewables which have displaced more carbon-intensive sources like coal and oil, as well as investments in energy efficiency that lower overall electricity demand.  These reductions have been accompanied by lower electricity prices in the region (down 10% since the program began) and significant economic benefits:  a study from the Analysis Group estimated that electric consumers would save $1.1 billion on their bills over 10 years from the energy efficiency improvements funded by allowance revenue, and further, that these savings would generate over $1.6 billion in economic benefits for the region.

The new lower cap allows RGGI to secure the reductions already achieved, and push forward towards more ambitious pollution reduction goals.  The changes to the program are the result of a transparent and comprehensive program review process set in motion through RGGI’s original Memorandum of Understanding – a mechanism that is successfully fulfilling its original intention by allowing the states to evaluate results and make critical improvements.

While the changes will go a long way to fortify the program, there is room in the future for the RGGI states to look to California’s strong program design for additional enhancements.  For example, RGGI’s updated Model Rule creates a Cost Containment Reserve (CCR) – a fixed quantity of allowances which are made available for sale if allowance prices exceed predefined “trigger prices”.  A CCR is a smart design feature which provides additional flexibility and cost containment – however, RGGI’s CCR allowances are designed to be additional to the cap, rather than carved out from underneath it as in CA’s program (ensuring the overall emission reduction goals will be met).  California’s program has displayed enormous success already, with a strong showing in their first auction.

In the meantime, the RGGI states should be commended for their success thus far, and for their renewed leadership as they take important steps to strengthen the program.  These states have achieved significant reductions in emissions of heat-trapping pollutants at lower costs than originally projected, all while saving their citizens money and stimulating their economies, transitioning their power sector towards cleaner, safer generation sources, and laying a strong foundation for compliance with the Carbon Pollution Standards for power plants being developed under the Clean Air Act.  Such impressive achievements provide a powerful, concrete example of how to tackle harmful carbon pollution and capture the important co-benefits of doing so.

The bottom line is that cap and trade is alive and well on both coasts as the states continue to lead the charge on tackling climate change in the U.S. while delivering clear economic benefits.

Also posted in California, Cap and Trade, Cap and Trade Watch, Clean Air Act, Politics| Leave a comment

Newsflash: Clean Air Act saves lives, boosts GDP

We have sometimes been the bearers of bad news on jobs in the past. Not bad news, really. Realistic news. So excuse me for being a bit giddy at the sight of the latest piece of very realistic—and very good—news.

The EPA just released a new White Paper that turns out to be as green as it is red, white, and blue.

Lives and health at a bargain price

First, it starts with what really matters when considering the impact of the Clean Air Act—health and the corresponding social and economic benefits:

  • 18 million child respiratory illnesses prevented in 1990 alone,
  • 200,000 lives saved that year (160,000 in 2010),
  • total benefits outpacing costs 30:1 since 1990.

These are the key figures we need to keep in mind. Always.

Healthy kids means a healthy workforce

For anyone who isn't yet satisfied but worries about the economic impact of the Clean Air Act, there's more good news:

Protecting children from neurotoxins leads to workers with higher IQs.

That should be an obvious statement. It also turns out to come with real economic benefits. The latest study by Harvard's Dale Jorgenson et al shows that the Clean Air Act has boosted productivity and growth:

GDP in 2010 is 1.5 percent higher than it would have been without the Clean Air Act.

Again, that's GDP. Hard economic growth. The number that measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.

Clean and competitive

Lastly, the paper concludes with a look at competitiveness concerns. The verdict: the Clean Air Act does not harm competitiveness.

That's not as strong as saying that the Clean Air Act improves U.S. competitiveness. Improving productivity also improves competitiveness, and combining the standard competitiveness arguments with Jorgenson's productivity results may well show that to be the case.

But no one to my knowledge has done that yet credibly. (Of course, I'd love to be proven wrong on that point.) To the full credit of EPA and the credibility of its analysis, the paper does not go that far either.

The White Paper stays well within the mainstream of economic analysis of the Clean Air Act and bears plenty of good news for health, wealth, and the planet.

Read it at your own peril. It may well be the first piece of economic analysis that makes you giddy yourself.

Also posted in Politics, Technology| Leave a comment

Not the U.S. or China, but the U.S., China and the Planet

One of the pleasures of my job is having a slew of superbly qualified prospective interns knock on our doors. Yesterday, I interviewed someone who graduated at the top of his class at Renmin University in Beijing.

There have been plenty of column inches written on "China versus the US," including when it comes to green jobs and clean tech. So,

Who's going to come out ahead, China or the United States?

It took him nary a second to nail this one:

China, relatively. Both China and the U.S. in an absolute sense.

That's the textbook answer.

The atmosphere wins

China has a lot of catching up to do. Comparatively, it will clearly gain on the U.S. But trade also has advantages for both parties involved. That's why we trade in the first place.

The planet emerges as a winner as well. It doesn't care where a ton of carbon gets emitted or where it gets reduced—just that reductions happen.

If China produces cheaper solar panels, we get fewer emissions overall. The planet wins. China wins. What about the U.S.?

What about jobs?

If you are among the 800 workers in Devens, MA, who last week found out that Evergreen Solar was moving its plant to China, you will feel very differently about free trade right about now. The textbook economic answer would say that the move can still make everyone better off: compensate the losers through portions of the gains from the winners, and everybody wins once again.

This situation, of course, is the moment when you throw out your textbook and think about the full consequences.

As a result of the move, solar panels will likely become even cheaper for everyone, enabling many more to buy them. Still, the Devens 800 will not be among the people lining up to buy cheaper solar panels.

What can they do? What should the U.S. do as a matter of policy?

First, we need to realize that the rules of trade still apply. China has lots of cheap labor. It does and will continue to manufacture many products sold in the U.S. Solar panels are no different.

But that's still not a satisfying answer, nor is it the whole story—not for manufacturing itself, and not for the clean tech industry overall.

How to keep clean tech jobs in the U.S.

To get to the bottom of this, we need to look at the full supply chain for solar panels. This, of course, oversimplifies things, but we can split the entire process into three distinct buckets: inventing, producing, and installing.

Right now, the U.S. is inventing, China is producing, and it is the one installing the resulting solar panels domestically at massive scale.

The U.S. ought to do everything to make sure it keeps inventing clean tech products. That means a concerted push to fund basic research and development. But R&D subsidies alone won't do.

Many mentions of "R&D" add a second "D" for deployment. Government support can get things going, but large-scale deployment of clean technologies won't happen through subsidies alone (at least not without bankrupting the government).

So how do you get deployment up to scale?

Deployment clearly needs to be driven by demand. That's where a cap on carbon pollution, with its resulting price on carbon, comes in. A cap helps create a more level playing field for solar and other renewable energy sources relative to fossil energy and, therefore, creates the necessary demand. (There are alternatives, like simply requiring a certain percentage of power to come from solar, but none is quite as cheap and flexible as a cap.)

Made in USA?

Moreover, cheap labor and cheaper production facilities may be a decisive factor, but they are not the only reason companies consider when choosing where to locate. There are many more, but let's focus on two: intellectual property (IP) protection and being close to where the demand is.

The U.S. has a leg up on China in terms of IP protection. That's, in part, why the U.S. (still) leads on R&D. It's also a clear draw for some companies to locate their production facilities in the U.S.

Another oft-cited reason is to be close to consumers. That's once again where the importance of the second "D"—deployment—comes in. The more demand there is for solar panels in the U.S., the more companies will locate their production plants in the U.S. as well. The case of First Solar supplying panels for Wal-Mart is a prime example. (Note that this is distinct from cheaper production leading to more demand in the first place.)

In the end, though, we must also be clear that jobs will be different in the new, cleaner economy. We will need fewer gas station attendants. Many other jobs will thrive. Underlying trade forces will mean that China may well be producing many of the solar panels sold globally. Assembling, installing, and maintaining solar panels in the U.S. will require plenty of skilled labor. And none of these jobs can be exported.

California leading

With the right policies in place, the U.S. will keep inventing. It will also create thousands of jobs dedicated to deployment. China will play a major role in producing, but even there, smart environmental policy can only help.

California is taking the lead with its Million Solar Roofs initiative, creating many a job assembling, installing, and maintaining solar panels. That initiative, though, still has to be paid for by tax dollars, and it won't go on forever.

That's where the cap on carbon kicks in. California is bound to stay ahead of the rest of the U.S. with its ambitious cap-and-trade system that starts on January 1, 2012 and the resulting market signal that says that clean tech pays in the U.S. as well.

Consider the just-released Next 10 report, Many Shades of Green, that found that in the most recent observable 12-month period (January 2008 – January 2009) jobs in the green sector grew more than three times faster than total employment in California. (Of course, all of this always comes with the warning that green sector jobs are still a small fraction of total jobs—much like IT jobs were a minuscule part of overall employment in the early 1980s.)

One of our internship spot may well end up going to a Chinese student, but that, too, can only be good for the planet—making a small contribution to help train the next generation of Chinese environmental leaders. And rest assured, there are plenty more open job positions (including one for a post-doc working with our economic team, open to anyone with a Princeton affiliation).

Also posted in California, International, Politics| 3 Responses

The long and the short of energy efficiency

David Owen asks a provocative question in the current New YorkerIf our machines use less energy, will we just use them more? He more or less says yes. The real answer comes in two parts.

For now—over days, weeks, months, and even years—energy efficiency will decrease energy use and emissions. Screw a compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb into a socket that used to hold an incandescent and your energy use will go down. Chances are you won't leave the lights on four times as long just because light now costs a quarter.

Over time—years, decades, centuries, and millennia—more energy efficient lights and appliances will indeed mean that more people use more of them. CFLs make light more affordable. That doesn't matter to the typical U.S. household, where few light sockets remain unused because of energy costs. But globally—and over time—it does make a difference.

The Jevons Paradox

William Stanley JevonsOwen goes back to 1865 and William Stanley Jevons who at 28 came up with what has later been called the "Jevons Paradox":

It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.

Jevons is right, of course. We have seen dramatic increases in energy efficiency over centuries while energy use has gone up by orders of magnitude.

Does that mean we shouldn't increase energy efficiency? Of course not. We just need to be clear about what we are getting in exchange.

Energy over the millennia

Sperm WhaleBy the mid-1800s, the latest and greatest in lighting technology was spermaceti, a fat from the head of sperm whales. It cost around $1,500 a barrel in today's dollars and its price was only going to go up as whales became ever scarcer. Since then, we have seen gas lights come and go and by now electric lights cost less than a thousandth as much as the equivalent in lighting power back then.

That's not a recent phenomenon. Bill Nordhaus went back to 500,000 BC. Lighting cost a million times [PDF] as much then as it does today. Needless to say, we are using much more of it now.

Another word for this phenomenon is “technological progress.” That’s really what’s behind the whale oil story, and we want more of it. There is still plenty of energy poverty [PDF] in the world. We clearly want affordable, clean energy for as many people as possible.

Of course, misguided “progress” has also led us to a planet on the brink of breakage. We need to limit greenhouse gas emissions—and do so sooner rather than later.

Will energy efficiency save the climate?

Should we look to energy efficiency as a way to do some of that? Absolutely. Energy efficiency is cheap, quick, clean, and often underutilized.

McKinsey has looked for zero-cost energy efficiency opportunities in the United States and has found possible savings of above 20 percent of total demand in 2020.  Those savings, could go a long way toward meeting commonly discussed climate policy goals.

But won’t those energy savings just mean that we are using more energy eventually? History has shown it to be true after all.

In the short run—over days, weeks, months, and even years—the Jevons Paradox manifests itself in a well-documented “rebound effect” of around 10 percent. On average, you would indeed leave your CFL on for a bit longer than you would an incandescent. We lose a tenth of energy savings to increased use. (Owen cites the 10 percent figure but then goes on to overstate some of the implications dramatically.)

That leaves 90 percent in true savings and points to the clear win-win potential of energy efficiency measures.

Not by energy efficiency alone

In the long run—over years, decades, centuries, and millennia—cleaner and cheaper energy also means more people will be using more of it.

Does that mean energy efficiency is bad? Of course not. Energy inefficiency is another term for waste. And we clearly want less of that. But the problems our planet faces are too large to address through waste reduction (“reduce, reuse, recycle”) alone.

To get emissions down in the long run, there’s no escaping the (gasp) inconvenient truth that we must limit pollution directly—ideally though a declining cap on total emissions.

A cap on emissions—and the ensuing price on carbon pollution and race to invent cleaner energy sources—is the only mechanism we know that can break the link between emissions and energy use.  It limits the former and makes clean energy cheaper relative to fossil fuels.

Also posted in Technology| 3 Responses

First steps for the California carbon trading market

Whoever said cap and trade is dead hasn’t been paying attention to the news in California.

Recently, the first trade of a greenhouse gas emissions permit in the Golden State took place, signaling the beginning of what experts project to be a robust carbon market—and the largest in the U.S. given the absence of a nation-wide policy (note that the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the first mandatory market-based effort in the U.S. with 10 participating Northeastern states, applies to utilities, while California’s program will also apply to industry and in later years, transportation).  The trade takes place hot on the heels of the defeat of Proposition 23 in the November elections.

Although the compliance market won’t launch until 2012, Barclays Bank and NRG Energy completed the first allowance trade:  a forward contract which guarantees the delivery of allowances valid for use in the California market at the start of the program at a locked-in price (around $11-$11.50 according to Point Carbon).  By helping provide certainty about the future, these types of trades allow firms to make smart business planning decisions, such as which energy technologies to invest in.  Experts at Barclays as well as at San Francisco-based CantorCO2 expect that other early trades are soon to follow, as firms look for ways to reduce risk and start transitioning to a clean energy economy.

Ensuring the integrity of the carbon market…

State regulators have been able to provide sufficient certainty about how the market will be structured and the timeline for regulatory action to allow for this early launch of the California market.  However, it will be important to nail down sooner rather than later the nitty-gritty specifics of how the market will be regulated in order to ensure that trading occurs in an efficient and transparent way (note that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is currently accepting comments on a detailed rule proposal).

The financial crisis we just lived through should provide ample incentive for us to make sure to get the rules right and for ensuring tough enforcement and strong oversight — for example, by requiring all carbon trading to be done on registered exchanges, rather than over the counter.  On that point, it’s worth noting that the recently passed Dodd-Frank Financial Reform legislation requires the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to lead an interagency study on how best to regulate the carbon market.  (Carl Royal’s 2009 testimony from the House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing on the American Clean Energy and Security Act and our own fact sheet provide some more arguments).

The path forward for CA

California's cap-and-trade program will cover the power and industrial sectors starting in 2012 and the transportation sector (including cars and fuels) beginning in 2015.  Time and time again, California and other regional initiatives, like RGGI, continue to lead the nation on sensible energy and climate policy (and stay tuned for developments in the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) as well as New Mexico).  Time for Washington to catch up.

Also posted in California, Cap and Trade Watch| Leave a comment

Not green or brown, just good economics

Lord Stern famously calls global warming "the biggest market failure the world has ever seen." It would only be natural for any introductory economics textbook to prepare budding economists to address this problem.

You would think.

Yoram Bauman, otherwise known as the Stand-up Economist, put together a sobering report: Grading economics textbooks on climate change.

Only four of sixteen books received As.

The others are either out of date, outright wrong, or worse.

It's frustrating that even the best texts seem to banish the biggest market failure into sidebars or special chapters toward the end. Sadly that's the typical treatment of environmental issues in introductory economics classes: "First, let's discuss all the reasons why the economy is doing just fine. Then, if there's time at the end, we'll cover some exceptions to those rules."

Krugman and Wells's text appears to be the only one that integrates climate considerations into a key chapter, one on "long-run economic growth." That's not entirely surprising, given Paul Krugman's other writings on the topic, but it's good to know it starts with the introductory text. It would be even better if other texts followed that lead.

(More takes: Mankiw and Env-Econ)

Also posted in Climate science| Leave a comment

Gung-ho about cap and trade

"Why are you so gung-ho about cap and trade? Don't you realize it's a corporate takeover of the atmosphere?"

I’m paraphrasing here, but this was the gist of an audience question I got while moderating a panel on Getting Carbon Market Governance right from Day One at the International Anti-Corruption Conference on Friday. The rest of the discussion was a frank exchange of ideas on how to ensure a workable, transparent carbon market. More on that later. For now a quick response to this question because I think it gets to the heart of why we do what we do. Why are we so "gung-ho" about cap and trade?

We ought to be polluting less because it's the right thing to do, not because someone else limits pollution and hands out allowances to companies. Well, yes. If everyone woke up tomorrow and decided that global warming pollution was bad and that we ought to stop dumping billions of tons a year into the atmosphere, far be it for me to stop them.

Things aren't quite that easy. We clearly ought to be moving toward a more coherent climate ethic. One of our panelists, ethicist Don Brown, made exactly this point. The question is how to get there.

No volunteers, please

Volunteerism simply won't do. Misguided collective action got us into this mess. Properly guiding collective action is the only way out. That means polluters ought to pay. Pollution must not.

There may be academic debates to be had on cap-and-trade versus carbon taxes, but fundamentally the best way in the real world is to put a firm limit on pollution. It worked for combating acid rain in the 1990s. A version of it works for combating overfishing. And the EU has shown that it works for carbon on a large scale.

Carbon markets around the globe

Global carbon markets operating, likely, and under consideration.Cap and trade might be "dead" in Washington at the moment, yet it is clearly alive and well and spanning the globe: from existing systems in the EU, the Northeastern US, Alberta in Canada, and New South Wales in Australia, likely systems in California, South Korea and Japan, to systems under discussion or in planning stages in Mexico, Chile, Brazil, and Russia—not to forget China, which will likely at least experiment with cap and trade as part of its 12th five-year plan, in place starting in 2011.

Good for the environment, good for business

Will there be business interests pulling for cap-and-trade? Hopefully. The task is to guide a $5 trillion-a-year fossil-fuel-based energy sector into a cleaner, leaner future. There better be—and there will be—plenty of money to be made in the greener economy.

Yet far from being a corporate takeover of the atmosphere, a well-designed carbon market is a way to make polluters pay for the costs they now shove off onto others by treating the atmosphere as a free dumpster.

Posted in Markets 101| 7 Responses