The MIT Press, 2018
Michaël Aklin, Patrick Bayer, S.P. Harish, and Johannes Urpelainen
The first comprehensive political science account of energy poverty, arguing that governments can improve energy access for their citizens through appropriate policy design.
In today’s industrialized world, almost everything we do consumes energy. While industrialized countries enjoy all the amenities of modern energy, more than a billion people in the developing world still lack energy access. Why is energy poverty persistent in some countries and not in others? Offering the first comprehensive political science account of energy poverty, Escaping the Energy Poverty Trap explores why governments have or have not been able to lead in providing modern energy to their least advantaged citizens.
Focusing on access to modern cooking fuels and household electrification, the authors develop a new political-economic theory that introduces government interest, institutional capacity, and local accountability as key determinants of energy access. They draw on case studies from India, East Asia, Africa, and Latin America to offer the optimistic conclusion that governments can improve institutional capacity and local accountability through appropriate policy design. Energy poverty is a policy problem, the authors assert, and engaging with it as such offers new opportunities not only for ensuring equal energy access, but also for political, economic, and environmental development.
The MIT Press, 2018
Michael Aklin, Johannes Urpelainen
Wind and solar are the most dynamic components of the global power sector. How did this happen? After the 1973 oil crisis, the limitations of an energy system based on fossil fuels created an urgent need to experiment with alternatives, and some pioneering governments reaped political gains by investing heavily in alternative energy such as wind or solar power. Public policy enabled growth over time, and economies of scale brought down costs dramatically. In this book, Michaël Aklin and Johannes Urpelainen offer a comprehensive political analysis of the rapid growth in renewable wind and solar power, mapping an energy transition through theory, case studies, and policy analysis.
Aklin and Urpelainen argue that, because the fossil fuel energy system and political support for it are so entrenched, only an external shock—an abrupt rise in oil prices, or a nuclear power accident, for example—allows renewable energy to grow. They analyze the key factors that enable renewable energy to withstand political backlash, and they draw on this analysis to explain and predict the development of renewable energy in different countries over time. They examine the pioneering efforts in the United States, Germany, and Denmark after the 1973 oil crisis and other shocks; explain why the United States surrendered its leadership role in renewable energy; and trace the recent rapid growth of modern renewables in electricity generation, describing, among other things, the return of wind and solar to the United States. Finally, they apply the lessons of their analysis to contemporary energy policy issues.
Andrew Cheon, Johannes Urpelainen
This book is the first systematic treatment of the anti-fossil fuel movement in the United States. An accessible and readable text, it is an essential reference for scholars, policymakers, activists, and citizens interested in climate change, fossil fuels, and environmental sustainability.
The entire book or chapters from it can be used as required or supplementary material in various courses at the undergraduate and graduate level. As the book is not technically challenging but contains a comprehensive review of climate change, fossil fuels, and the literature on environmental activism, it can be used as an accessible introduction to the anti-fossil fuel campaign across disciplines.
Articles and Chapters
Energy Policy forthcoming
Ryan Kennedy, Aseem Mahajan, Johannes Urpelainen
While rural electrification has been a high priority for many governments in the developing world, the factors that make individual households more likely to pay for a connection have received insufficient attention. In particular, many studies have dealt with the role of affordability of grid connections, but they have generally avoided studying the effects of service quality. Estimating the effect of quality on willingness of potential customers to pay is a difficult task because of self-selection — if quality is important, those in higher quality service areas are more likely to have a connection. Using household data from rural India, we estimate a Heckman selection model to deal with this issue and find a substantial impact of quality on willingness to pay for a connection in India. The results suggest that improving the quality of connections is critical to improving access.
Energy Policy 126: 470 – 479 (2019)
Jonas Meckling, Jonas Nahm
After decades of failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector, several jurisdictions have in rapid succession announced future goals to phase out sales of internal combustion engine vehicles. This article argues that these announcements are predominantly a form of political signaling in a green industrial policy competition for alternative transport technologies, notably electric vehicles. We show that such signaling games in green industrial policy are likely to emerge when market growth for alternative technologies initiates industrial policy competition, which explains the clustered timing of political signals. A country’s position in the global auto industry, however, shapes the domestic political economy for announcing a phaseout goal. Countries with aspirations to develop export-oriented EV industries seek industrial upgrading; countries with existing export-oriented auto industries promote industrial renewal to maintain international competitiveness; and importing countries pursue phaseout goals primarily for environmental reasons. Our findings suggest that industrial upgraders can induce incumbent producer countries to participate in green industrial policy competition, leading to the “trading up” of energy technology policy goals. This contrasts with classic patterns of environmental policy competition, in which advanced industrialized nations are the pacesetters.
Energy Policy 128: 459 – 469 (2019)
Brian Blankenship, Jason Chun Yu Wong, Johannes Urpelainen
Quality of electricity service remains poor in many developing countries. Here we examine factors that influence stated willingness to pay for better service (i.e., more hours of power per day) among rural and urban households in Uttar Pradesh, India. Besides suggesting that low willingness to pay is a major obstacle to pricing reform, we find that respondents with more social trust are willing to pay more. In a randomized survey experiment, we also find that delays in service improvements and a lack of community support for pricing reform reduce willingness to pay. These results confirm the importance of non-financial considerations in popular support for policies that impose higher prices in exchange for better service. However, we do not find evidence for sense of entitlement — the belief that government should offer basic goods and services for free — as a predictor of low willingness to pay. These results offer useful input for effective strategies to reform electricity pricing for better service and, ultimately, economic growth, particularly in areas where electricity is heavily underpriced and where governance is weak.
Energy Strategy Review (forthcoming)
Johannes Urpelainen, Joonseok Yang
A reliable supply of electricity is essential for economic development, and developing countries across the world have implemented reforms to improve their power sector performance. We publish a dataset of power sector reforms in 142 developing countries from 1982 to 2013 and use the data to describe patterns of variation. We find that privatization and liberalization of competition continue to lag behind other reforms, such as allowing independent power producers and establishing electricity regulators. However, this gap is only wide for relatively poor and authoritarian countries with low institutional capacity. Hybrid power markets remain a reality, but economic growth and democratization can move power sectors in emerging economies to a different direction. If developing economies continue to expand their economies, build state capacity, and move toward democratic political institutions, then we may see more private electric utilities and competition for profits in the future.
Energy for Sustainable Development 48, 34-42 (2019)
Sini Numminen, Peter Lund
One of the most important technical features of a power system is its ability to deliver electricity reliably to the customers. Based on interviews with 12 energy service companies (ESCO) currently operating solar micro-grids in northern rural India, this study identified important factors related to technical design, customer behaviour and operations and management (O&M) that may result in contingencies in service. In addition, the study presents companies’ innovative solutions to overcome these problems. Initially, the interview method allowed only a rough qualitative comparison of different reliability levels as the availability of comparable data was limited. We found that a more descriptive method for reliability assessment would create equally valuable information on renewable off-grid energy projects. We propose a simple framework for assessing reliability that highlights the particular features of off-grid areas in developing countries.
International Affairs 94, 1309-1328 (2018)
Thijs Van de Graaf, Michael Bradshaw
Even if oil prices have recovered from their plunge in 2014, this article argues that the oil industry is unlikely to return to the status quo ex ante. Two profound shifts in technology and markets are dramatically changing the longer-term outlook for the oil industry. In the short term, traditional producers will feel persistent pressure from the shale revolution, a disruptive technology that has altered the cost curve and elasticity of oil supply. In the medium term, the industry must confront a structural slowdown and eventual peak in demand owing to innovation and evolving consumer preferences, related in part to concerns over climate change. Together, these shifts reflect a new energy order in which oil is no longer an exhaustible resource, new trading patterns emerge, and oil prices exhibit greater short-term volatility amid a long-term declining trend. These new rules of the game force us to reconsider some of the theories and concepts of the international political economy of oil. We flag three key political effects from these market shifts: (1) key oil-producing states face economic and political turmoil; (2) the Organization of the Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OPEC) cannot influence the price of oil in the long term by cutting output; and (3) power is redistributed in the international system.
Review of International Organization (2018): 1-29
Tana Johnson, Johannes Urpelainen
The term “global South” refers to developing countries as a whole, but recently, numerous developing countries — Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Thailand, South Africa, and others — simultaneously grew wealthier while many other countries remain poor. This prompts a fundamental question: does the global South demonstrate unity in international politics, with developing countries at various wealth levels behaving like one another, and in ways unlike the industrialized “North”? Or is the global South fractured, too economically and politically diverse to operate in tandem? Theoretical expectations are mixed, and the empirical record is inconclusive. To adjudicate, we pinpoint a stringent set of observable implications that should hold if the developing world is to be considered at all unified vis-a-vis the industrialized world. Then we probe those implications with statistical analyses of over 3,600 paragraphs of text from governments’ negotiations concerning trade and environmental policy, a policy space that facilitates generalizability by representing fundamental sovereignty and wealth issues underlying traditional North-South frictions. Our finding — that overall, developing countries exhibit surprising unity — weighs in on central theoretical and policy debates in international relations, comparative politics, and political economy.
Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions (2018): https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eist.2018.09.002
Annika Bose Styczynski, Llewelyn Hughes
Governments apply a range of policy instruments to promote the electrification of personal transport using technologies such as Plug-in Hybrid, Battery Electric, and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles. We introduce a framework for comparing public policies cross-nationally used to support the research, development, and deployment of electric vehicles. We use this framework to identify whether governments are using similar policy instruments to promote vehicle electrification in the period 2006-2016. We also examine the extent to which policy instruments are neutral across technologies, presenting country case studies for China, the United States, Japan, and, within the regulatory framework of the European Union, Germany, and France. We find that governments have largely adopted technology neutral policies and are employing similar policy mixes in promoting vehicle electrification, despite differences in governing institutions between the countries examined. We conclude by suggesting a future research agenda, including identifying plausible explanations for this outcome.
Business & Politics (2018): 1 – 30
Climate change mitigation relies increasingly on clean technologies such as renewable energy. Despite widespread success, further deployment of renewables has been met with resistance from voters and governments in several countries. How resilient is the renewable energy industry to adverse political events? I use the unexpected election of Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential race to study this question. As a vocal critic of renewables and a supporter of fossil fuels, his election is a plausible negative shock to the renewable energy sector. I examine stock market data to gauge the reaction of investors. I find that renewable energy stocks were adversely affected by the election. Overall, they experienced a cumulative abnormal loss in share values of about 6% on average over the twenty days that followed the election. However, I find that the negative effect is concentrated among non-U.S. firms. U.S. firms, on average, emerged unscathed. Non-U.S. companies, on the other hand, lost over 14% of their value in the aftermath of the election. This suggests that markets are more concerned by increasing obstacles to international business than a decrease of federal support for renewables.
The Politics of Fossil Fuel Subsidies and their Reform, Jakob Skovgaard and Harro van Asselt (eds), Cambridge University Press, (2018), p. 212 – 228
Abhishek Jain, Shalu Agrawal, Karthik Ganesan
Fossil fuel subsidies strain public budgets, and contribute to climate change and local air pollution. Despite widespread agreement among experts about the benefits of reforming fossil fuel subsidies, repeated international commitments to eliminate them, and valiant efforts by some countries to reform them, they continue to persist. This book helps explain this conundrum, by exploring the politics of fossil fuel subsidies and their reform. Bringing together scholars and practitioners, the book offers new case studies both from countries that have undertaken subsidy reform, and those that have yet to do so. It explores the roles of various intergovernmental and non-governmental institutions in promoting fossil fuel subsidy reform at the international level, as well as conceptual aspects of fossil fuel subsidies. This is essential reading for researchers and practitioners, and students of political science, international relations, law, public policy, and environmental studies.
WIREs Energy Environ e325 (2018)
Shalu Agrawal, Abhishek Jain
Provision of energy for irrigation in a sustainable manner has become critical to the global food and livelihood security, particularly in the context of increasing fresh water scarcity and the risks associated with climate change. In this context, solar irrigation pumps (SIPs) have emerged as a promising alternative to diesel and electricity powered pump sets, particularly in developing countries. But, in view of the fiscal, environmental and socio-economic fallouts of past irrigation strategies, how can it be ensured that SIPs are deployed in a sustainable manner?
Based on a detailed literature review and semi-structured interviews of key stakeholders, we identify and discuss 14 factors, which would determine whether the use of SIPs in a given context is economically viable, socially acceptable and environmental sustainable. Drawing from the best practices and experiences in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, we also put forward key recommendations to incorporate sustainability concerns in the policies and programmes for SIPs deployment.
Energy Policy 122: 395 – 408 (2018)
Carlos Gould, Johannes Urpelainen
Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is by far the most popular clean cooking fuel in rural India, but how rural households use it remains poorly understood. Using the 2014-2015 ACCESS survey with over 8,500 households from six energy-poor Indian states, our study reports on results from a comprehensive survey of LPG use in rural India using a holistic approach to understanding the integration of a clean cooking fuel into rural household’s energy mixes. There are three principal findings: (i) fuel costs are a critical obstacle to widespread adoption, (ii) fuel stacking is the prevailing norm as few households stop using firewood when adopting LPG, and (iii) both users and non-users have highly positive views of LPG as a convenient and clean cooking fuel. These findings show that expanding LPG use offers great promise in rural India, but affordability prevents a complete transition from traditional biomass to clean cooking fuels.
Energy Policy 122: 421-428 (2018)
Michael Aklin, Harish S.P, Johannes Urpelainen
Universal electricity access is an important element of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and global efforts to monitor progress in electrification have recently escalated. To inform these efforts, we describe a new database of total, rural, and urban electrification rates across the world. Using transparent coding criteria and decades of data, going back to 1960 for many countries, from nationally representative surveys and official reports from 124 non-OECD countries, we uncover evidence for rapid progress in household electrification relative to earlier estimates. Our comprehensive and freely available database offers a solid baseline for tracking progress in household electrification across the world. We confirm a robust association between per capita income and household electrification, and identify population density and urbanization as additional key drivers.
Energy Research and Social Science 46: 64-67 (2018)
I propose that vouchers offer a promising approach to making distributed power generation, such as solar home systems, affordable to consumers and profitable for producers and distributors. In a voucher-based system, governments give vouchers to eligible beneficiaries, who then use the vouchers to purchase qualifying products and services. This system enables consumer choice, helps the poor with the affordability of distributed energy products, and injects money into the market for relevant products and services. I discuss practical implementation challenges and argue that digitalization allows governments to significantly reduce corruption and red tape, making vouchers a realistic energy access policy for many governments all over the world.
Energy Strategy Reviews 21: 130-136 (2018)
Sini Numminen, Semee Yoon, Peter Lund, Johannes Urpelainen
Stand-alone photovoltaic systems provide a potentially sustainable option for rural electrification, but the design and management of these systems is a challenge. Here we examine the ability of dynamic (real-time) pricing in off-grid systems to improve the durability of the batteries used to store power. In a randomized controlled trial with a pre-paid solar micro-grid in rural India, we found that dynamic pricing did not improve technical performance or customer satisfaction. The best explanation for the null finding is that, for various reasons, households minimized their power consumption and there was thus little need for demand management. These findings suggest that the low demand for power is a key challenge for the profitability of pre-paid off-grid systems.
Energy Research and Social Sciences 44: 1 – 5 (2018)
Siyuan Ma, Johannes Urpelainen
As the cost of distributed power generation continues to decrease, technologies such as solar home systems and micro-grids become increasingly attractive in the quest for energy access. Here we show, however, that national rural electrification planning mostly continues to ignore distributed power generation. A detailed review of the national rural electrification plans of the twenty countries with the largest numbers of non-electrified households shows that distributed power generation is usually absent or at best a minor component of the strategy. Our original contribution is thus to show where and how national rural electrification planning lags behind technology and business models, with guidelines for future research on explaining these patterns.
Studies in Comparative International Development (forthcoming)
Meir Alkon, Johannes Urpelainen
What accounts for the persistence of inefficient subsidies? What are the obstacles to their reform? We examine the role of trust in government among farmers in explaining support for reforming India’s energy subsidies. The subsidies under study hold back efforts to provide a reliable supply of agricultural power and contribute to the unsustainable extraction of groundwater. This water-energy nexus in rural India represents both a poverty-perpetuating policy equilibrium and a crisis in environmental governance. Informed by interviews and focus groups, we conduct an original survey of 2,010 farmers in Bihar, Gujarat, and Rajasthan and analyze this data on the preferences of ‘vested interests’ — those most affected by potential reform — to demonstrate the crucial role of political trust, especially trust in the national government, in predicting farmers’ political support for reforms. Our findings have practical implications for environmental governance and rural development, and contribute to understanding the political economy of social policy reform in a developing democracy.
Energy Economics 72: 35 – 46 (2018)
Michael Aklin, Patrick Bayer, S.P. Harish, Johannes Urpelainen
Innovation is one of the most important drivers of economic development. Even in developing countries, households have access to a wide array of new technologies. However, factors affecting households’ technology adoption decisions remain poorly understood. Using data on solar microgrid adoption from rural India, we investigate the determinants of household technology adoption. We offer all households identical solar products to avoid bias from product differentiation. Households pay a monthly fee for technology use, allowing us to abstract away from credit constraints as a barrier to adoption. The results show that household expenditures and savings as well as the household head’s entrepreneurial attitude are strong predictors of adoption. In contrast, past fuel expenditures, risk acceptance, and community trust are not associated with technology adoption decisions. These findings suggest new directions for research on the microeconomics of household technology adoption, which is critical for sustainable development among the poor in developing countries.
Energy for Sustainable Development 44: 11 – 20 (2018)
Daniel Robert Thomas, Johannes Urpelainen
Rural electrification has progressed unevenly across the world since 1945, with some rural communities gaining access to power decades earlier than others. We examine the association between early electrification and the quality of electricity service to households, testing the hypothesis that aging infrastructure compromises the quality of electricity service. Using the 2014-2015 ACCESS survey from rural India, we find that early electrification is associated with improvements in the quality of electricity service, even controlling for village size and distance to nearest town. A possible explanation for the finding is that early electrification generates economic gains that allow the rural community to invest in maintenance and upgrades.
International Journal of Remote Sensing 39-9: 2690-2701 (2018)
Eugenie Dugoua, Ryan Kennedy, Johannes Urpelainen
Remote sensing data has the potential to revolutionize social science. One of the most prominent examples of this is the Nighttime Lights dataset, which provides digital measures of nighttime luminosity from 1992 to 2013. This study evaluates the Nighttime Lights data against detailed rural electrification data from the 2011 Census of India. The results suggest that many nighttime luminosity measures derived from satellite data are surprisingly accurate for measuring rural electrification, even at the village level and using simple statistical tools. We also demonstrate that this accuracy can be substantially improved by using of better GIS maps, basic geoprocessing tools, and particular aggregations of nighttime luminosity. Nighttime luminosity performs worse in measuring financial inclusion or proxies of poverty, however, and detects rural electrification less accurately when the supply of power is intermittent. These results offer guidelines for when and how remote sensing data can be used when administrative data is absent or unreliable.
Climate Policy 18-7: 839-851 (2017)
Johannes Urpelainen, Thijs Van de Graaf
In June 2017, the Trump administration decided to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, a landmark climate agreement adopted in 2015 by 195 nations. The exit of the U.S. has not just raised concern that the U.S. will miss its domestic emission reduction targets, but also that other parties to the Paris Agreement might backtrack on their initial pledges regarding emission reductions or financial contributions. Here we assess the magnitude of the threat that U.S. non-cooperation poses to the Paris Agreement from an international relations perspective. We argue that U.S. non-cooperation does not fundamentally alter U.S. emissions, which will likely continue to decline even in the absence of new federal climate policies. Nor does it undermine nationally determined contributions under pledge and review, as the Paris Agreement has introduced a new logic of domestically-driven climate policies and the cost of low-carbon technologies keeps falling. However, U.S. non-participation in raising climate finance could raise high barriers to global climate cooperation in the future. Political strategies to mitigate these threats include direct engagement by climate leaders such as the European Union with key emerging economies, notably China and India, and domestic climate policies that furnish benefits to traditional opponents of ambitious climate policy.
Energy Research and Social Science 39: 69 – 73 (2017)
The World Bank’s Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy (RISE) scorecard evaluates countries’ sustainable energy policies against global `best practices.’ Here I demonstrate that many of these so-called best practices are inappropriate in the context of limited state capacity. Using several examples from the RISE report, I argue that the World Bank should replace the pursuit of one-size-fits-all best practices and instead focus on generating knowledge about the contextual fit of different policy approaches. Drawing inspiration from research on adaptive reform strategies in the developing country context, I argue that an adaptive and flexible strategy could help national governments to surmount obstacles to policies that over time make the dream of sustainable energy for all a global reality.
Energy for Sustainable Development 42: 54 – 63 (2017)
Chao-yo Cheng, Michaël Aklin, Johannes Urpelainen
We investigate the determinants of distributed solar technology adoption at the village and household level in India. Using spatial data on insolation, census records, and original surveys, we show that remote and poor but large villages with abundant sunshine have led the wave of solar technology adoption as an alternative to grid electricity. At the household level, however, wealth and financial access are positively associated with solar technology adoption, a result that holds for both solar lanterns and home systems. Moreover, remote villages are more likely to see solar technology adoption when households have access to finance through banks. We also find that the use of household solar technology is strongly associated with a household’s subjective satisfaction with domestic lighting. These results demonstrate that understanding solar technology adoption in geographies requires considering both community and household characteristics. They also underscore the importance of financial access as a precondition for using distributed solar power as an alternative to grid connectivity.
Review of Policy Research, 2017
Brian Blankenship, Johannes Urpelainen
Sectoral interests play an important role in distributive politics, but their influence is difficult to measure. We compare the effect of international oil prices on subsidies for domestic gasoline and diesel consumption. Because diesel is used by a smaller number of organized agricultural and transportation interests, they are more capable of collective action than the dispersed beneficiaries of gasoline subsidies. The conventional wisdom holds that sectoral interests could mobilize to stop reform (e.g., price increases, deregulation). Challenging this view, we consider the possibility that sectoral interests promote reform by facilitating the targeted allocation of compensation and exemptions. An empirical analysis of gasoline and diesel prices, 1991-2012, strongly supports the second hypothesis: diesel prices respond to international oil prices more strongly than do gasoline prices. Quantitative tests and case studies allow us to explore causal mechanisms, verify that the gasoline-diesel difference is related to actual policy reforms, and reject alternative explanations.