More Than 500 Top-Rated Research Articles
Why the U.S. urgently needs to invest in a modern energy system
QER Report cover

By Joseph Nyangon
September 21, 2015

In a speech commemorating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the International Energy Agency (IEA) in 2009, former U.S. secretary of state, Henry Kissinger recalled how the energy crisis of 1970s awakened the world “to a new challenge that would require both creative thinking and international cooperation.”[1] He explained that as “global demand continues to grow, investment cycles, technologies, and supporting infrastructure will be critical.” As a top U.S. diplomat in the 1970s, Kissinger is credited with promoting energy security as a third pillar of the international order through a trifecta of initiatives to bolster incentives to energy producers to increase their supplies, encourage rational and prudent consumption of existing supplies, and improve development of alternative energy sources. These efforts contributed to the establishment of the IEA in 1974 as a principal institutional mechanism for enhancing global energy cooperation among industrialized nations.

Forty years after the IEA’s founding, the relationship between energy and international cooperation endures, but changes in the energy landscape triggered by a revolution in how we produce, distribute, and consume various forms of energy is affecting the IEA’s fans. The agency interestingly examines the role of sustainable energy options and considers institutional change as often eclipsing conventional supply issues in shaping our energy future. For example, the challenges facing the electric power industry today include the need for diversification of generation, optimal deployment of expensive assets, carbon emissions reduction, and investment in decoupling strategies and demand response. Two key policy imperatives characterize these challenges, notably: the need to adopt policies that combat climate change, and the need for greater energy security due to concerns associated with supply-demand imbalances. Once again, we are at a moment of institutional and industry-wide transformation that calls for strategic investment and partnership to replace, protect, expand, and modernize our energy infrastructure. It is easy to slip into thinking of the nation’s energy landscape as a static challenge. It is not. The boundaries, business models, policies, strategies, and technical solutions have been a function of the incentives and objectives provided by policy.

The U.S. power grid is one of the most advanced energy systems globally, but its growth has been an evolving patchwork of disparate systems, functions, and components. Because of years of inadequate investment, the electric grid is now aging, outmoded, and unreliable to take full advantage of new domestic energy sources and emerging technologies and business models in the sector. In climate, energy, and economic terms, these issues are defined by whether the next wave of energy infrastructure will further the status quo of the path of least resistance and principally continue relying on conventional fossil energy sources or transition to efficient technologies and a clean energy future. In the first-ever Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) of the U.S. energy infrastructure released in April 2015, modernizing the nation’s energy infrastructure, to foster economic competitiveness, create a domestic clean energy economy, improve energy security, and promote environmental integrity, are identified as central policy concerns facing the country in a time of rapid change. President Obama ordered the review when he unveiled his Clean Power Plan in early January 2014.[2]

Here are six key policy recommendations of the QER report.

Improve the capacity of states and localities to identify and respond to potential energy disruptions: The review identifies severe weather events as the major cause of electric grid disturbances. From 2003 to 2012, severe weather caused an estimated 679 widespread power outages in the U.S. costing the economy between $18 billion and $33 billion annually.[3] Low-probability/high-consequence events also caused various types of electric grid disturbances in energy transmission, storage, and distribution infrastructure, including natural gas transmission infrastructure systems such as pipeline and storage leading to safety concerns. These threats and vulnerabilities vary substantially by region with Gulf Coast region being more susceptible to hurricanes, thus requiring regional solutions. The report recommends investing in new technologies like smart meters and automated switching devices to ensure much quicker recovery times from disruptions. It also recommends establishing a multi-year program by the U.S. Department of Energy to support the updating and expansion of state energy assurance plans.

Increase investments in electric grid modernization through expansion of different business models, utility structures, and innovative technologies: The review identifies increased investments in flexible operations and resilience as a more effective and economical solution for serving customer needs by enabling smart growth, in both transmission and distribution systems. Investment in transmission has been on the rise since 2000s, and is expected to grow with improved system reliability and interconnection requirements of distributed generation sources. In 2013, the report explains that investor-owned utilities spent a record high of $16.9 billion on transmission, up from $5.8 billion in 2001.[4] The growing level of transmission investment is needed to replace the aging infrastructure, increase system reliability, and facilitate competitive wholesale power markets. The report recommends adopting new business models, utility structures, and institutions to shape the operation, management, and regulation of the grid as well as optimize and update the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to reflect modern oil markets.

Strengthen regional integration of the North American energy markets: Opportunities for increased integration of markets and policies exist in the North American neighbours: the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. To further energy, economic, and environmental goals, the report recommends developing a common energy market, shared environmental and security goals, and infrastructure that undergirds the three economies. For example, in 2013, energy trade between the U.S. and Canada was approximately $140 billion, while energy trade with Mexico exceeded $65 billion in 2012—a sign of the existing opportunities for integration.[5]

Update and improve quantification of methane emissions from natural gas systems: To enhance the ability of the nation to achieve the targeted environmental goals, the report calls for urgent need to address the direct environmental impacts and vulnerabilities of energy transmission, storage, and distribution infrastructure, more broadly, carbon sequestration infrastructure, long-distance transmission to enable distributed generation and utilization of renewable resources, and smart grid technologies to support energy efficiency. The QER recommends updating greenhouse gas inventory estimates of methane emissions from natural gas systems, increased funding to reduce diesel emissions under the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, and enactment of the proposed Carbon Dioxide Investment and Sequestration Tax Credit, to support carbon capture technology and associated infrastructure.

Improve siting and permitting of energy infrastructure: The QER identifies involvement of multiple federal, state, local and tribal jurisdictions to add the time to siting, permitting, and review process of energy infrastructure projects due to overlapping and sometimes conflicting statutory responsibilities. To enhance credibility of the process, the QER recommends increased meaningful and robust public engagement with local stakeholders to speed up siting decisions, establishment of regional and state partnerships, and enactment and funding of relevant statutory authorities to improve coordination across agencies.

Strengthen shared transport infrastructures: The report calls for strengthening of waterborne, rail, and road transport to move energy commodities. It recommends establishing alternative funding mechanisms, public-private partnerships, and grants for shared energy transport systems.

The energy infrastructure challenges highlighted above can be addressed partly by investing in an assortment of technological innovations. This would repurpose energy sectors to trade energy efficiently in today’s extremely difficult managerial, regulatory, and financial environment. Investing in ‘smart’ energy offers a viable and effective long-term solution that allows the industry to shift its supply sources, build new transmission and storage systems, and increase its energy efficiency goals. Finally, these policy recommendations illustrate a key point: changes associated with modernizing our energy infrastructure and the attendant market solutions may change, interplant or even interfirm efficiency.

[1] Kissinger, H. (2009). The Future Role of the IEA: Speech for the 35th Anniversary of the International Energy Agency, October 2009. Available at: Accessed on September 15, 2015
[2] The White House (2014). “Obama Administration Launches Quadrennial Energy Review.” January 9, 2014. Available at: Accessed on September 15, 2015.
[3] QER (2015). Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) Report: Energy Transmission, Storage, and Distribution Infrastructure, April 2015. Available at: Accessed on September 15, 2015, pp. S-10
[4] QER (2015), pp. 3-6
[5] QER (2015), pp. S-22

Photo: Cover of the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER)

Creating sustainable solutions to strengthen food security

By Cheng-Hao Shih
Sept. 19, 2015

A recent World Resources Institute’s report titled Creating a Sustainable Food Future provides a comprehensive analysis of the current challenges facing global agricultural and food production industry.

According to the report, global agricultural and food supply need to be readjusted to meet the demand of a growing global population. The agricultural production chain has to supply more food and provide more economic opportunities for the growing global community while at the same time pursuing strategies to reduce its environmental impacts, ecosystem degradation and address climate change.

Regarding economic development and poverty concerns, the report suggests that the current agriculture industry should develop and expand in a way that provides more economic opportunities for the rural poor, especially for women farm workers. The majority of the agricultural workforces in developing countries are women. Increasing women’s income can effectively alleviate hunger and strengthen rural livelihoods, reduce poverty, and enhance food security for the local communities which also addressing gender inequality [1].

In terms of the challenges of land use and biodiversity, the report notes that current expansion of farmland has caused serious ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss. In addition, this growing agricultural production leads to more greenhouse gas emissions and poses a great climate change impact to the global environment.

The technology trend and the modern profit-oriented market system have greatly affected our present agricultural industry. Most of the farmers adopted scientifically bred seeds and chemical fertilizer to increase their yield. This trend has seriously altered our recognition and behavior towards our daily food demand and consumption. Hence, it is critical for the consumer to realize such changes and alter our behavior accordingly.

The challenges of strengthening food security and improving sustainable food production systems cannot be addressed separately as single-aspect issues. They are broad and highly interconnected issues that require interdisciplinary knowledge, supportive policy options, well-developed institutional capacity and adequate investment in order to holistically identify and address the underlying economic, environmental and equity concerns in the agricultural sector. Consequently, to achieve the desired sustainable food future, policy makers should first understand the broadness and complexity of the issue. Through this understanding, we may be able to find sustainable pathways for creating win-win solutions and encouraging governments, the private sector, and civil society to work together with conviction in solving this issue.


Photo: World Resources Institute/Creating a Sustainable Food Future Report

CEEP Director Featured in NBC News Story on President Obama’s Trip to Alaska
Obama Alaska trip

September 14, 2015

Featured in the NBC News top story Breaking the Ice: Obama Seeks to Cement Climate Change Legacy, CEEP director, Dr. John Byrne, discusses President Obama’s recent trip to the Alaskan Arctic and the administration’s increasingly forceful climate change policy. Dr. Byrne is a Distinguished Professor of Energy and Climate Policy and Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP) at the University of Delaware.

President Obama’s high profile trip to the Alaskan Artic is the first by a sitting president, and represents the administration’s continuing aggressive push to highlight the impact of climate change in advance of a critical United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP-21) meeting in Paris this coming December.

In his first inaugural address, President Obama promised to “restore science to its rightful place” and “roll back the specter of a warming planet.” But as the nation struggled to recover from job losses amid the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, climate change took a back seat. Moreover, the Obama administration’s urgency of cushioning the impacts of global financial crisis and climate change through green jobs in his first term did not fully resonate with the American public and faced congressional challenges.

“The whole green jobs efforts was a response to (the economic downturn),” Dr Byrne is quoted in the article. He notes the administration’s most dramatic actions on climate change in his second term have been largely through executive actions.

“He has changed direction and is speaking much more clearly about the risk that we face,” Dr. Byrne said. “The science has gotten a lot better and the confirming evidence is very strong.”

Dr. Byrne has contributed since 1992 to Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and shares the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the Panel’s authors. He is the architect of the Sustainable Energy Utility and its sustainable energy finance program, which received U.S. White House recognition as part of the nation’s Better Buildings Challenge. The Asian Development Bank has also recommended the model to its member countries.

About the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP)
Established in 1980 at the University of Delaware, the Center is a leading institution for interdisciplinary education, research, and advocacy in energy and environmental policy. In 1993, CEEP was asked to develop a University-wide program for graduate study and research in energy and environmental policy and to expand its mission to formally include the topics of environmental justice and sustainable development. In 1997, CEEP created the first graduate Energy and Environmental Policy (ENEP) degrees in the U.S. The University of Delaware granted permanent status to the ENEP degrees in 2003. From its inception, CEEP has operated a research and advocacy program that is undertaken at international, regional, national, state, and local scales. Typically, CEEP faculty and graduate students accept 15-20 projects each year. Often conducted with partners, the yearly program varies by topic (ranging from climate change to urban environmental justice to water equity and sustainable energy development) and includes several sponsors (e.g., foundations, governments and UN organizations). In certain cases, CEEP chooses to internally support projects of interest to its members. Today, graduate education is offered by the Center in doctoral (PhD-ENEP) and master (MEEP) programs. CEEP is the principal academic and research unit for graduate study in the areas of energy and environmental policy, environmental justice and sustainable development at the University of Delaware. Annually, over 75 students from more than 20 countries study and pursue research at the Center, together with its eight core faculty, seven adjunct faculty and visiting researchers, faculty and activists from around the world.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Breaking the Ice: Obama Seeks to Cement Climate Change Legacy

Metrics for evaluating energy and environmental sustainability: How to improve the current index systems

By Joohee Lee
April 21, 2015

Often times, it is not easy to assess performance of energy and environmental policies because it take a long time for the effects to be observed and some of them are simply difficult to quantify. A variety of efforts have been made by intergovernmental organizations, research institutes, and individual scholars to develop global indices for energy and environmental sustainability which enable users to compare relevant policy performance at a country level.

A good environmental index can serve many roles. First, it allows policy makers to fathom a changing trend of the country’s environmental performance over time and navigate future discourses over sustainability issues. It can also encourage countries to take into account trade-offs between different dimensions and develop more balanced policies. In addition, researchers can take advantage of the index by using it as a variable in empirical models and analyses. In this article, two existing indices – the Environmental Performance Index and the Energy Sustainability Index – will be introduced and reviewed in attempt to understand how they are dealing with difficulties assessing a wide spectrum of energy and environmental policies.

Environmental Performance Index
Designed by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy partnered with other academic and intergovernmental entities, the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) is a metric to measure how well countries implement and perform on environmental policies. The index focuses on two broad policy objectives: protection of human health from environmental risks and protection of ecological systems [1]. The ‘environmental health’ dimension consists of three categories related to human security – health impacts, air quality, and water & sanitation. The ‘ecosystem vitality’ dimension includes categories directly related to environmental integrity – water resources, agriculture, forests, fisheries, biodiversity & habitat, and climate & energy [1]. Each category of the index is scored by one to four quantifiable indicators which reflect the level of execution and accomplishment of relevant national policies. For instance, the ‘Climate and Energy’ category is evaluated based on three indicators – trend in carbon intensity, change of trend in carbon intensity, and trend in CO2 emissions per kWh. In order to make the index fair and comparable, data for each indicator are standardized and weighted to create a policy issue score ranging from 0 to 100 (with 100 being closest to the policy target) [2]. With the overall scores integrating two objectives, the 2014 EPI indexed 178 countries having Switzerland at the top of the list same as the 2012 EPI result.

Energy Sustainability Index
With more focus on energy issues, the World Energy Council (WEC)’s Energy Sustainability Index, also known as the Energy Trilemma Index, is constructed to measure each nation’s energy policy and performance from three perspectives – energy security, energy equity, and environmental sustainability. According to the 2014 Energy Trilemma Index, Switzerland was ranked in the top place obtaining a high evaluation on the environmental sustainability category, followed by Sweden and Norway [3]. Similar to the EPI, it uses country-level data and ranks 129 countries with aggregate scores of the three dimensions. In this way, the index reveals the extent to which the country balances energy demands to deliver more sustainable energy systems [3]. A notable feature of the WEC’s index is the inclusion of ‘energy equity’ issues by measuring energy affordability and accessibility. Finding proper indicators for energy equity can be challenging because goals for energy equity are not usually quantitative and are often not on the priority list of policy makers. The WEC’s index incorporates country’s average cost of electricity (USD per kWh) and population with access to electricity (%) as indicators for energy affordability and accessibility, respectively [4].

For a more comprehensive index system
Both the Environmental Performance Index and the Energy Sustainability Index built on very comprehensive approaches for evaluation of energy and environmental performance. However, as the EPI developers point out by themselves, there is still room for improvement. For example, the current index systems do not address the environmental and social impacts of controversial policies such as nuclear power and carbon capture and storage. Although the relationship between GDP and CO2 emissions (i.e., carbon intensity) is included in both the EPI and the WEC’s index, it does not necessarily capture inequality in burden-sharing of carbon reductions across the population and countries.

By expanding the scope of the current index systems in such a way as to embrace the social equity dimension, the indices will be able to provide more meaningful insights on a country’s performance on energy and environmental policies and projects.

[1] Environmental Performance Index (EPI). (2014). 2014 Environmental Performance Index: Full Report and Analysis. Retrieved from
[2] EPI. (n.d.). The 2014 EPI Framework & Calculating the EPI. Retrieved from
[3] World Energy Council (WEC). (2014). 2014 Energy Trilemma Index: Benchmarking the sustainability of national energy systems. Retrieved from
[4] WEC. (n.d.). The Index Methodology. Retrieved from

Photo credit: Amy Weinfurter: Yale/CityGreen

Unconventional truth about nuclear power and technological society
Japan Nuclear

By Jeongseok Seo
April 16, 2015

It was four years ago that a single event changed the lives of people in Fukushima completely. The explosion of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station forced most of the residents to abandon their long-held livelihoods. Sadly, they may not be able to return to their homes soon due to the radiation levels near the power plants which are still well above the allowable limit [1][2]. Concerns have grown further as an increasing number of young children in the region are suffering from thyroid cancer, which is considered a primary health effect from radiation exposure [3][4]. In spite of ongoing and growing problems, however, the Japanese government has been pushing to restart idled nuclear reactors, and the country’s nuclear watchdog has recently approved the restart of two reactors in south-west Japan [2].

Across the East Sea, the regulators in South Korea have also made a similar decision recently. They approved an extension in operation of a 32-year-old reactor at the Wolsong Nuclear Power Complex in southeast region of the peninsula. This reactor, the second oldest among 23 reactors in the country, has been out of operation for the last three years after having completed its design lifespan of 30 years [5]. According to the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission, the Korean government’s nuclear watchdog agency, the restart decision is based on comprehensive evaluations by experts, and the reactor passed stress and other safety tests to see if it could resist disasters, such as earthquakes [5]. However, some local residents and civic groups oppose the decision, citing its closed-door decision process and the failure of the government to disclose vital information [6].

In spite of the consequences of the reactor meltdown in Fukushima and the safety concerns about the Wolsong reactor, the decisions by the Japanese and Korean governments illustrate a characteristic of modern ‘technological society.’ According to Jacque Ellul, who analyzed the phenomenon, technological society is governed by technique, which does not just mean machines or technology but is “the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity” [7]. It is built and maintained based on the principle of rationality and efficiency, and generates a belief that continuous technological advances lead to social progress. In modern societies like as Japan and South Korea, belief in the social benefits of technique is widespread, technical activities often regarded as superior to nontechnical activities, even ones intended to reflect social preferences for constraints on technical progress [9].

One anecdote illustrates how technological society operates. There was no social and economic reason to strive for nuclear power in the 1960s when the technology began use in several countries. In fact, cheaper sources of electricity supply existed with lower social risks. Nonetheless, technological societies, often without social consent, adopted nuclear power. J. Robert Oppenheimer’s remark captures modern thinking on this score: “When I saw how to do it, it was clear to me that one had to at least make the thing. The [hydrogen bomb] program … was technically so sweet that you could not argue about that” [8]. In many ways, the rise of nuclear power has been seen as a logical step in technological progress, too “sweet” at least for experts and political elites to ignore.

Supporters of nuclear power frequently rely on acclaimed values of technique, making nuclear energy an imperative rather than choice. Recent negotiations with Iran, the U.S., China, Russia, the UK and France reinforce the message: nuclear power is to be regarded as a proper desire to modernize a country’s energy system and the challenge is how to accomplish this without also realizing the ability to advance capabilities to produce nuclear weapons. A distinctly modern discourse on progress!

[1] U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Radiation Dose Limits for Individual Members of the Public. Accessed on March 11, 2015.
[2] The Guardian. Japan remembers the 18,000 victims of 2011’s triple disaster. March 11, 2015.
[3] Kim I.J. 2015. Child thyroid cancer increases by 200 times. March 11, 2015.
[4] US EPA. Radiation and Health. Accessed on March 11, 2015.
[5] Korea Nuclear Safety and Security Commission. Accessed on March 11, 2015.
[6] Business Korea. Growing Opposition to Decision to Re-operate Wolsong-1 Nuclear Power Plant. March 3, 2015.
[7] Jacque Ellul. The Technological Society. New York: Vintage Books (1964)
[8] Langdon Winner. Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1977)
[9] Byrne J. and Hoffman M., “The Ideology of Progress and the Globalization of Nuclear Power,” in J. Byrne and S. Hoffman eds. 1996. Governing the Atom: The Politics of Risk (New Brunswick, NJ and London: Transaction Publisher)

Smart ideas: Jeju island smart grid test-bed to optimise energy usage through the use of renewable energy

By Soojin Shin
April 14, 2015

Widespread deployment of smart grids could play a valuable role in achieving a more secure and sustainable energy future. Smart grids are able to handle fluctuations from sources such as solar and wind while also improving demand-side efficiency [1]. Also, smart grids are an important element for expanding the use of a number of low-carbon technologies, including electric vehicles [2].

South Korea’s state-run transmission operator, Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO)’s new campaign “Global Top Green and Smart Energy Pioneer” signals its intention to redefine its business model [3], and one reflection of the new model is the development of a smart grid project that can assist KEPCO in expanding its use of new and renewable energy and encourage use of electric energy efficiency.

KEPCO has set a goal of establishing a national smart grid by 2030. In order to achieve this goal, the company has built successfully and is operating a smart grid test-bed complex on Jeju Island. The project is intended to provide a next-generation power grid that maximizes energy efficiency by incorporating IT in grid operation. Five sectors have been tested to improve power system efficiency and develop output-stabilization technology for renewable energy [4].

Jeju Island is an ideal project area because it is served by a self-contained grid. As well, it was the only site for the company’s installation of smart meters, intelligent power transmission and distribution equipment, and configuration of digital transformation systems which were undertaken in late 2011. Currently it is introducing a real-time pricing system and has installed an electric vehicle charging station, enabling the company to study integration of renewable energy generation and electric vehicle operations into the power network [5].

KEPCO is focusing on four key areas: peak load reduction, reduction in power transmission and distribution losses, integration of renewable energy into the grid and strategies to reduce the number and length of blackouts. The Jeju island test-bed results have led KEPCO to explore new opportunities in overseas markets, offering tailored package product combining standard technologies with intelligent electric power options and business models.

The state-run transmission operator is also preparing a global super grid project for the peninsular to be launched in future. With the successful and widespread development of the smart grids, societies can expect high-quality electric power service, better system reliability and quality of service which maximizes efficiency of energy use and energy savings, and higher penetration and acceleration of the use of renewable to capture environmental benefits.

[1] Kaygusuz K. (2011). Energy services and energy poverty for sustainable rural development, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 15 (2011) 936–947
[2] IEA, available from
[3] Korea Joongang Daily, available from
[4] Korea Electric Power Corporation, available from
[5] Korea Smart Grid Institute, available from

Photo: Zpryme, Smart Grid Insights. South Korea: Smart Grid Revolution: zpryme

Mobilizing public and private capital for clean energy financing

By Joseph Nyangon
April 9, 2015

The energy market in the United States is undergoing a dramatic transformation, driven by technological advancement, market dynamics, and better policies and laws—none of which was a decade ago. Venture capitalists made huge profits from the computing boom of the 1980s, the internet boom of the 1990s, and now think the next boom will happen on the back of energy. These past booms, however, were fed by cheap energy: coal was cheap; natural gas was low-priced; and apart from the events following the 1973 Arab oil embargo and the 1979 Iranian Revolution, oil was comparatively cheap. However, in the space of the past decade, all that has changed. New resource finds, primarily shale resources from states such as Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania, exert pressure on the prices of oil and gas. At the same time, there is a growing concern of negative externalities associated with these fossil fuels.

Hybrid vehicles are doing more to fulfill their technological promise. Wind-and-solar powered alternative no longer looks so costly by comparison to natural gas—whose low prices due to increased shale production have shaken up domestic and global energy markets recently. Coal remains relatively cheap, however, its extraction damages ecosystems by destroying ecological habitats. Additionally, combustion of fossil fuels pollutes the air by emitting harmful substances into the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide that contribute to global warming.

Oil spills, such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico and leakages at exploration and extraction points destabilize marine ecosystems, killing aquatic life. Utility firms seeking to avoid political and capital costs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan and Mercury and Air Toxics Standard on existing plant performance have began to invest more in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies that guarantee less harmful emissions. As a result, the industry is accelerating modernization of their generation fleet. These underlying factors, including innovative financing options, increased capital investment, and market incentives, have opened up a capacity gap from conventional plants and an opportunity especially for solar, wind, and other low-carbon technologies.

Innovative financing options: A key driver of recent renewable energy gains is cost. As a mass market develops and the technology improves solar and wind power have become more competitive. In California and New York, a surcharge paid by utility customers to help finance clean energy projects in the two states has generated substantial sums of money, which is being invested in energy efficiency and renewable projects. In Connecticut, the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA), a successor of Connecticut Clean Energy Fund (CCEF) has funded over $150 million of clean technology projects and awareness programs statewide.[1] As more states adopt these kinds of programs, they continue to subsidize investment in clean energy programs. Financing clean energy projects, nevertheless, continues to face stiff competition from non-renewable sources. The cost of fossil fuels is still relatively low, mostly because social costs and the price of ecological damage are not factored into existing market prices. Renewable energy development also continues to experience high transactions costs, such as in negotiating power-purchase agreements which can make them more risky to investors.

Capital costs: In the long run, however, real gross domestic product and carbon emissions are likely to be the primary drivers of clean energy consumption, because governments will try to prevent the price of energy from rising too fast or decreasing overly quickly as it can have negative effect on overall economic growth. Thus the price of fossil fuels could have only a small negative effect on the demand for clean energy. The main barrier to large-scale wind and solar projects is obvious—high upfront capital costs. Accordingly, some investors in certain parts of the country continue to demand high premium lending rates to offset the upfront capital risked up to fund clean energy projects than other conventional energy projects. At the same time, technology improvements, especially with regard to solar, and promising much lower future capital costs, which explains why solar energy is the fastest growing source of new energy simply in the U.S. and worldwide.2

Secondary effects: According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) Short-Term Energy Outlook February 2015, utility-scale solar power generation in the U.S. will increase by more than 60% between 2014 and 2016, averaging almost 80 GWh per day in 2016.[2]  Half of this new capacity will be built in California. The World Energy Outlook 2014 estimates a 37% increase in the share of renewables in power generation in most OECD countries by 2040.[3] However, growth in renewable energy generation in non-OECD countries, led by China, India, Latin America and Africa, will more than double, according to the report. A change in energy policy or regulations in these markets could have even wider secondary effects on energy supply: positive impacts on emission reductions, accelerated substitution effects, and improved cost-competitiveness of renewable energy.

Market incentives and carbon tax: In the absence of fossil-fuel subsidies, which in 2013 alone totaled $550 billion, renewable energy technologies would be competitive with fossil power plants.[4] The effect of fossil-fuel subsidies on renewable electricity generation is fourfold: they weaken the cost competitiveness of renewable energy; boost the incumbent advantage of fossil fuels; lower the costs of fossil-fuel-powered electricity generation; and make investment in fossil-fuel-based technologies favorable over renewable alternatives. For instance, a phase-out of coal subsidies could further limit new construction and use of least-efficient coal-fired plants, thus incentivizing investment in clean energy.

Finally, if new policy causes the marketplace to internalize the risks of climate change, there would be no need for renewable energy subsidies and mandates in order for these sources to reach market parity.

[1] Connecticut Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority:
[2] Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Short-Term Energy Outlook February 2015:
[3] World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2014:
[4] Ibid, WEO, p.4

Powering Africa: Opportunities for renewable energy investment in sub-Saharan Africa
powering africa

By A.L. Smitt
April 6, 2015

In the most recent issue of Ernst and Young’s Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index, there is an interesting feature article on “Powering Africa.” [1] It is interesting not only because it describes the investment opportunities and risks in sub-Saharan African (SSA) renewable energy and electricity markets, but also hints at a different approach to development in the region than has been pursued in the past.

Opportunities and Risks. In the next 25 years, nearly one billion people will gain access to electricity in SSA, but, because of forecasted population growth, the number of people who have no access to electricity will only drop from the 600 million now to about 530 million. With all the advantages electrification offers in health care, education, business operations, communications, and agriculture, if the subcontinent were to become fully electrified, it could support a cycle of investment and job growth that might help lift millions of people from the deepest depths of economic deprivation and disease.

Perceptions are starting to change regarding investment opportunities in Africa. Astute entrepreneurs are realizing that Africa is huge, that there is not just the one “African” market, but 54 different ones in as many countries, and situations are not the same everywhere. “Since 2001, SSA has been home to 6 of the top 10 fastest-growing economies in the world” (p.19). Renewable energy resources are vast – wind, geothermal, biomass, and, of course, solar. In fact, SSA’s underdeveloped electricity grid offers huge potential for distributed solutions to meet the needs of the area’s farmers and rural populations who compose 60% of the total population and 70% of those in poverty. Once the process starts, microgrid communities could spread like mushrooms, sprouting where conditions are right and spurring regional and national development. How smart policy can plant the seeds of this growth is the second major focus of the article.

Development Reimagined. The most interesting thing about this article is how it approaches the idea of development in the region. It describes how President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative is different from government investment schemes of the past.[2] Take, for example, the case in which Western multinational corporations supplied the inputs and foreign aid preferred alien farming techniques. Infertile second-gen seeds of the industrialized ‘dependent’ development as farmers were forced to continue purchasing inputs from Western companies.

In contrast, the Obama plan actively seeks local expertise and energy sources to design and implement the new energy era. The investment numbers so far are not minor: The US has used $7 billion to leverage another $20 billion from private investors and the World Bank, African Development Bank, and Sweden have combined for another $9 billion to fund the program. The program’s project goals are all field driven. That is, “In addition to capital, PA is providing critical advisory and collaboration services via its on-the-ground transaction advisors, engaging in policy reform efforts, helping to identify roadblocks, coordinating information flows among different stakeholders, and galvanizing the required support from the appropriate US agencies or other parties.” [3]

This initiative realizes that in the varied and sometimes difficult investment world of SSA, local knowledge and participation is key to achieving success and it is why PA Coordinator Andrew Herscowitz says that “banks and private equity funds are tripping over themselves to try and get in on these kinds of investments” (p.24). There is plenty of opportunity in Africa and many people want to get involved in this potentially explosive sector of the economy.Investors in the developed world can take part in this opportunity to make a high return on their investments while not exploiting impoverished nations.

At least that is the hope: build a more secure, safe, and economically viable Africa on the regional and international stage by enabling an energy system designed by and for the continent’s people and businesses. Let’s hope it works better and differently for SSA than the experiment of the (first) “Green Revolution.”

[1] Renewable energy country attractiveness index (RECAI): Issue 43, March 2015
[2] Fact Sheet: President Obama Power Africa Initiative
[3] RECAI, p.22.

Photo credit: RECAI

Four point plan for promoting renewable energy in South Korea
renewables in Korea

By Soojin Shin
April 5, 2015

According to the Korea Energy Economic Institute (KEEI), January 2015 monthly review, energy production totaled 3,821 thousand tons of oil equivalent, representing a 10.2% increase compared with the level of production one year earlier [1].

While both hydro and renewable energy production increased, both accounted for only 28% of total production in October 2014 [1]. To reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels including petroleum products, coal, and natural gas in order to comply with the country’s national and international commitment to a low-carbon future there is need for more rapid development of renewable energies. This requires significant and continued investment in low-carbon options.

The government of South Korea announced the Fourth Basic Plan for New and Renewable Energy plan in September 2014 [2]. The plan identifies and sets a specific target of providing 11% of the country’s total primary energy supply with new and renewable energy by 2035. It begins with increasing the mean annual growth rate of renewables to 6.2% from 2014 to 2035 from the current 0.7%.

The plan seeks to invest in energy efficiency in buildings and residential in order to reduce energy wastage. The blueprint focuses on expanding public and private partnerships in new and renewable energy sector by building market base for renewable and reducing over-emphasis on government-led financing of clean energy projects.

Finally, the plan seeks expand the domestic renewable energy value chain by actively engaging and investing in foreign clean energy market. The plan sets ambitious priorities for the renewable energy market, covering areas such as investment, infrastructure, technology development and programs.

However, although the government has promoted the plan, with an initial investment of $150 billion, this has had little impact on the composition of renewable energy mix in the energy production. And there is a larger problem with the plan—increasing renewable energy from its current 2% to 12% by 2030 handling seems significantly low compared to the targets in the EU (27%), US (27%) and Japan (21%) [3][4][5].

Considering the current limited energy resource endowment in the country and inadequate technologies, a more comprehensive renewable energy strategy supported by advanced technology roadmaps is required.

[1] Korean Energy Economics Institute (KEEI), Energy Review Monthly – January 2015 (Summary). Available from
[2] Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE), Available from
[3] International Energy Agency(IEA), Energy Policies of IEA Countries
[4] Available from:
[5] Available from:

Photo credit: A view of a solar power plant of Korea South East Power Co. (KOSEP) in Incheon. Reuters/ Jo Yong-Hak

Don’t make it history: Four years after Fukushima nuclear accident

By Joohee Lee
April 5, 2015

The fourth anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident was observed about a month ago. This catastrophic accident captured global attention for many months but recently has garnered only sporadic media coverage. Yet, small and large earthquakes near the accident site remind us that the risk is far from over.

Last year when I visited Osaka to attend a conference, the city looked quite peaceful and not much different from what I remembered before the accident. I learned that people living hundreds of miles away from the epicenter of the accident would not let it change their day-to-day activities. During my stay, the only occasion that allowed me to learn of the ongoing nuclear debate in the country was a brief conversation with an anti-nuclear citizen group I encountered in front of the headquarters of the Kansai Electric Power Company, a major electric utility serving Japan’s second largest industrial areas. They were protesting against the company’s recent moves to restart nuclear power plants in the area. One of the participants lamented that public support for demonstrations had waned compared to the mass protests at its peak that followed the meltdown. In particular, this protestor was deeply concerned about the dwindling crowds especially the younger generation.

Shinzō Abe, the Japanese prime minister, has continued to strongly support nuclear power arguing that the technology is essential to boost the country’s economic growth and energy security. Large utility companies have also shown strong interest in restarting idle power plants. And the desire to return to the country’s reliance on the technology might be fulfilled soon – for the first time since the shutdown of all 48 nuclear reactors after the meltdown, the central and local governments recently approved two reactors in Kyushu to come back online (although the Kyushu Electric Power Company still needs to go through more operational safety checks) [1]. If this plan goes ahead, additional proposals could follow despite the public’s mixed feelings about sustaining the path for nuclear power.

Another important aspect of this debate is the ongoing cleanup process of the Fukushima Daiichi accident site. In cooperation with the central government, the Tokyo Electric Power Company has been responsible for decommissioning the troubled nuclear reactors. However, in practical terms, the plan and deadlines they proposed are unlikely to be met due to the delays in timely treatments of contaminated water [2, 3]. During this delay, leakage of radioactive water into the ocean can possibly threaten the marine ecosystem as well as human health. Moreover, unburied debris of the power plants has been linked to radioactive substances detected in local food and air.

Anti-nuclear advocates argue that Japan has shown the possibility and feasibility of a non-nuclear society since all plants were closed in September 2013. Going back to the nuclear option might seem an easier choice for Japan, but that means the entire society once again has to embrace the same risks and uncertainties that exposed the country to serious health and environmental consequences. Life must go on no matter what – but society needs to learn from mistakes and turn them into an opportunity to identify and implement alternatives. And citizens should have the power to require and realize such change even if it takes time.

[1] “Japan nuclear plant gets approval to restart, over three years after Fukushima,” Reuters, October 28, 2014,
[2] “Tepco Set to Miss Target for Fukushima Radioactive Water Cleanup,” Bloomberg, August 4, 2014,
[3] “Fukushima Daiichi NPS Prompt Report 2015”, Tokyo Electric Power Company, January 23, 2015,

Photo credit: Fukushima Nuclear Plant – ABC News

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