Go to Articles and Chapters
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
Review of Policy Research
Richard McAlexander, Johannes Urpelainen
Do elections affect legislators’ voting patterns? We investigate this question in the context of environmental policy in the US Congress. We theorize that since the general public is generally in favor of legislation protecting the environment, legislators have an incentive to favor the public over industry and vote for pro-environment legislation at election time. The argument is supported by analyses of data on environmental roll-call votes for the US Congress from 1970-2013 where we estimate the likelihood of casting a pro-environment as a function of the time to an election. While Democrats are generally more likely to cast a pro-environment vote before an election, this effect is much stronger for Republicans when the legislator won the previous election by a thinner margin. The election effect is maximized for candidates receiving substantial campaign contributions from the (anti-environment) oil and gas industry. Analysis of Twitter data confirms that Congress. members make pro-environmental statements and highlight their roll-call voting behavior during the election season. These results show that legislators do strategically adjust their voting behavior to favor the public immediate prior to an election.
Forthcoming, Energy Research & Social Science
Carlos Gould, Johannes Urpelainen
Clean cooking fuels promise substantial health benefits for rural households, but almost three billion people continue to rely on traditional biomass for their cooking needs. We explore the role of gender in the adoption of LPG, a clean cooking fuel, in rural India. Given that women are responsible for most households’ cooking needs, we propose that gender inequality is an obstacle to LPG adoption because men may fail to appreciate the full benefits of clean cooking fuels. Using data for 8,563 households from the ACCESS survey, we demonstrate that households where women participate in decision-making are more likely to adopt LPG for cooking than households in which a man is the sole decision-maker. We extend our analytic framework to evaluate the relationship between household characteristics and LPG and firewood use. Access and cylinder costs were both negatively associated with LPG use and while LPG adoption reduced firewood use, fuel stacking remains the norm in study households. This study has implications for future policy designs to increase LPG adoption and use to obtain the multiple benefits of cleaner cooking.
Forthcoming, Energy Research & Social Science
Joonseok Yang, Johannes Urpelainen
Using comprehensive data on power generation and energy access, we explore associations between coal-fired power generation and household electrification. We find that, although there is a strong between-country correlation between coal-fired power generation capacity and electricity access, the correlation disappears when we focus on within-country variation and control for secular trends. Further, statistical analyses using dynamic panel models show no evidence for the effect of coal-fired generation capacity on electrification rates. These results suggest that increases in coal-fired power generation may not have played an important role in promoting rural electrification in recent decades, calling into question the relationship between coal-fired power generation and energy access. The findings also imply that rural electrification can advance without the greenhouse gas emissions from coal combustion in electricity generation.
Multilevel Customer Segmentation for Off-Grid Solar in Developing Countries: Evidence from Solar Home Systems in Rwanda and Kenya
Forthcoming in Energy
Ryan Kennedy, Sini Numminen, Joseph Sutherland, Johannes Urpelainen
Off-grid solar systems have a number of advantages in developing countries, but they rely on the capacity of private entrepreneurs to develop a reliable customer base and methods for recruiting these customers. This study uses data from 68,600 customers of BBOXX, a London-based off-grid solar power company, to classify customers and explore the demographic and recruitment factors associated with customer behavior. We compare a non-parametric clustering method for customer segmentation with linear models of customer behavior. The results show a number of important demographic and geographic factors that influence recruitment of the company’s core customers, and demonstrates how linear models can be misleading. For example, women and those recruited by agent advertising or word-of-mouth are more likely in the company’s core clientele, even though the linear models suggest that they may be less profitable customers.
Economics and Politics, Forthcoming
National oil companies (NOCs) have invested hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign oil and gas assets. Why have some governments increased their NOC outward investments, while others have not? I argue that domestic structures can influence a government’s calculus that potential benefits, such as added revenues and fuel supply, outweigh potential costs, such as information asymmetries and inefficiencies associated with NOCs. Nationally, partisan competition limits democratic tolerance for failures by NOCs. Bureaucratically, overlapping authority in energy policy undermines coherent NOC governance. Based on investments by NOCs hailing from 79 countries, 2000-2013, I find robust evidence for the national hypothesis.
Water Security Implications of Coal-Fired Power Plants Financed Through China’s Belt and Road Initiative
Meir Alkon, Xiaogang He, Aubrey Paris, Wenying Liao, Thomas Hodson, Niko Wanders, Yaoping Wang
As the world’s largest proposed infrastructure program, China’s Belt and Road Initiative will have significant implications for water security, sustainability, and the future of energy generation in Asia. Pakistan, a keystone of the Belt and Road Initiative, presents an ideal case for assessing the impacts of the Initiative’s energy financing. We estimate the future water demands of seven new Chinese-financed, coal-fired power plants in Pakistan with a total capacity of 6600 MW. While these facilities may help address Pakistan’s energy shortages, our results indicate that by 2055, climate change-induced water stress in Pakistan will increase by 36–92% compared to current levels, and the power plants’ new water demands will amount to ~79.68 million m3. Our findings highlight the need for China and the Belt and Road Initiative’s destination countries to integrate resilience and sustainability efforts into energy infrastructure planning. Policy recommendations are offered to permit both sustainable development and responsible water resource management.
Jennifer L Richmond, Johannes Urpelainen
Rural electrification has the potential to transform rural lives and livelihoods by allowing households to use a variety of electric appliances. However, empirical evidence on how rural electrification translates into appliance ownership and usage remains understudied across contexts. Here we use data from the 2014-2015 ACCESS survey in six energy-poor states of India to understand the dynamics of appliance stock accumulation as a function of time since electrification. We find that, controlling for a number of variables, each additional year of electricity access leads to: 1) incrementally higher ownership rates of more power-intensive appliances, 2) increased likelihood of a higher total stock of appliances, and 3) increased probability of owning key appliances, especially TVs, fans, and pressure cookers. These results may help to explain why short-term impact evaluations sometimes find weak evidence for benefits of rural electrification; they also underscore the importance of realistic forecasts of energy demand growth over time after rural electrification.
Shades of Darkness or Light? A Systematic Review of Geographic Bias in Impact Evaluations of Electricity Access
Forthcoming, Energy Research & Social Science
David Hamburger, Joel Jaeger, Patrick Bayer, Ryan Kennedy, Joonseok Yang, Johannes Urpelainen
Despite the growing use of impact evaluations for electrification interventions, little attention has been paid to the geographical distribution of such evaluations. This is concerning because cultural and regional differences may limit how transferable results across regions are. We undertake a systematic review of the literature and find 31 impact evaluations of electricity access in 16 countries that meet our criteria for statistical hypothesis testing of development outcomes. India accounts for a quarter of the impact evaluations. Given the large non-electrified population in India, this is still a small number, roughly comparable to Nigeria or Kenya. South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are the most underrepresented regions. We find more positive impacts from electricity access, on average, for South Asia than for sub-Saharan Africa, which calls for greater attention to geographical bias in future impact evaluations of electrification access.
International Interactions, Forthcoming
Sung Eun Kim, Johannes Urpelainen, Joonseok Yang
One of the great questions for scholars of international relations and economics concerns the relationship between the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the natural environment. Does membership in the multilateral trade regime constrain environmental regulation and increase the environmental burden of national economies? Do countries pay a heavy environmental price for trade liberalization? Although this question has been debated extensively, there is little statistical evidence to contribute to the debate. We provide a comprehensive statistical analysis of the environmental effects of joining the multilateral trade regime. We collected data on a variety of environmental policies, institutions, and outcomes that should be influenced by GATT/WTO membership if the predictions of environmental pessimists or optimists are valid. A wide range of statistical models designed to identify the causal effect of the GATT/WTO on the environmental indicators shows that joining the GATT/WTO does not have negative effects on environmental quality.
Noah Scovronick, Mark Budolfson, Francis Dennig, Frank Errickson, Marc Fleurbaey, Wei Peng, Robert H. Socolow, Dean Spears & Fabian Wagner
The health co-benefits of CO2 mitigation can provide a strong incentive for climate policy through reductions in air pollutant emissions that occur when targeting shared sources. However, reducing air pollutant emissions may also have an important co-harm, as the aerosols they form produce net cooling overall. Nevertheless, aerosol impacts have not been fully incorporated into cost-benefit modeling that estimates how much the world should optimally mitigate. Here we find that when both co-benefits and co-harms are taken fully into account, optimal climate policy results in immediate net benefits globally, overturning previous findings from cost-benefit models that omit these effects. The global health benefits from climate policy could reach trillions of dollars annually, but will importantly depend on the air quality policies that nations adopt independently of climate change. Depending on how society values better health, economically optimal levels of mitigation may be consistent with a target of 2 °C or lower.
Narayan Gopinathan, Narayan Subramanian, Johannes Urpelainen
Since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015, both national and subnational governments have been encouraged to submit Mid-Century Strategies, outlining how they would reach their deep decarbonization goals. However, research on the design and potential of these strategies has been very limited. To address this shortcoming, here we assess 13 such strategies – six national, seven subnational – in a comparative fashion. We find that the energy-economy-climate models underpinning these strategies are generally of high quality, though national jurisdictions generally performed better. However, most strategies are not plausible without significant changes to policy, and the industrial sector in particular presents a major limitation. The strategies are helpful in revealing this gap, but much works remains to be done for plausible mid-century decarbonization trajectories to become a reality. We also find that public input and societal participation in strategy building were a double-edged sword depending on the constellation of domestic preferences.
- Governmental Mid-Century Strategies for deep decarbonization are underpinned by high-quality energy-economy-climate models
- Governments’ proposed strategies require significant new policies, as even among jurisdictions that have an MCS, extant policies are insufficient to achieve deep decarbonization
- No jurisdiction studied has yet put forward a plausible decarbonization policy for the industrial sector
- Public input and societal participation can be a double-edged sword: they can increase durability of the strategy but also enable opposing forces to mobilize against ambitious changes
Gasification of coal and biomass as a net carbon-negative power source for environment-friendly electricity generation in China
Journal of Cleaner Production forthcoming
Lu, Xi, Liang Cao, Haikun Wang, Wei Peng, Jia Xing, Shuxiao Wang, Siyi Cai, Bo Shen, Qing Yang, Chris P. Nielson, and Michael B. McElroy
Realizing the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 2 °C by the end of this century will most likely require deployment of carbon-negative technologies. It is particularly important that China, as the world’s top carbon emitter, avoids being locked into carbon-intensive, coal-fired power-generation technologies and undertakes a smooth transition from high- to negative-carbon electricity production. We focus here on deploying a combination of coal and biomass energy to produce electricity in China using an integrated gasification cycle system combined with carbon capture and storage (CBECCS). Such a system will also reduce air pollutant emissions, thus contributing to China’s near-term goal of improving air quality. We evaluate the bus-bar electricity-generation prices for CBECCS with mixing ratios of crop residues varying from 0 to 100%, as well as associated costs for carbon mitigation and cobenefits for air quality. We find that CBECCS systems employing a crop residue ratio of 35% could produce electricity with net-zero life-cycle emissions of greenhouse gases, with a levelized cost of electricity of no more than 9.2 US cents per kilowatt hour. A carbon price of approximately $52.0 per ton would make CBECCS cost-competitive with pulverized coal power plants. Therefore, our results provide critical insights for designing a CBECCS strategy in China to harness near-term air-quality cobenefits while laying the foundation for achieving negative carbon emissions in the long run.
Journal of Cleaner Production forthcoming
Joonseok Yang, Johannes Urpelainen
Given the size and growth prospects of the Indian economy, the Indian power sector plays a key role in the global effort to mitigate climate change. Here we use the January 2017 edition of the Coal Tracker database to understand the future prospects for Indian coal. Using improved lower and upper bounds for potential construction and capacity factors, we find that lifetime emissions over the next five decades from Indian coal-fired power generation could range from 18 to 39 gigatons. The single most important way to reduce these emissions is to reduce the average lifespan of plants, as neither falling capacity factors nor lower construction rates bring India’s power sector in line with the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius. Our estimations show that reducing the lifespan of plants from 40 to 30 years alone can decrease cumulative CO2 emissions by approximately 12 gigatons, which is equivalent to saving 5.8% of the global carbon budget for the two degrees Celsius target.
Review of Policy Research forthcoming
Richard Clark, Noah Zucker, Johannes Urpelainen
What is the relationship between political institutions and air pollution generated by the power sector? Here we focus on the association between democracy and power generated from coal, the most polluting of all fossil fuels. Using a new dataset on coal-fired power plants commissioned between 1980 and 2016 in 71 countries, we find that the relationship between democracy and coal varies according to the environmental Kuznets curve logic. Democratic political institutions at lower levels of economic development are correlated with increased commissioning of coal power plants, as governments seek to appeal to an electorate prioritizing economic growth and affordable energy access. As a country becomes richer, democracy comes to have a negative association with coal power, as clean air becomes a more salient issue for the public.
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.
The Politics of Technology Bans: Industrial Policy Competition and Green Goals for the Auto Industry
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.
The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: Developing Countries’ Unity at the Nexus of Trade and Environmental Policy
Review of International Organization (2018): 1-29
Tana Johnson, Johannes Urpelainen
Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions (2018): https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eist.2018.09.002
Annika Bose Styczynski, Llewelyn Hughes
How Robust is the Renewable Energy Industry to Political Shocks? Evidence from the 2016 U.S. Elections
Business & Politics (2018): 1 – 30
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
WIREs Energy Environ e325 (2018)
Shalu Agrawal, Abhishek Jain
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
Energy Policy 122: 421-428 (2018)
Michael Aklin, Harish S.P, Johannes Urpelainen
Energy Research and Social Science 46: 64-67 (2018)
Energy Strategy Reviews 21: 130-136 (2018)
Sini Numminen, Semee Yoon, Peter Lund, Johannes Urpelainen
Distributed Power Generation in National Rural Electrification Plans: An International and Comparative Evaluation
Energy Research and Social Sciences 44: 1 – 5 (2018)
Siyuan Ma, Johannes Urpelainen
Studies in Comparative International Development (forthcoming)
Meir Alkon, Johannes Urpelainen
Economics of Household Technology Adoption in Developing Countries: Evidence from Solar Technology Adoption in Rural India
Energy Economics 72: 35 – 46 (2018)
Michael Aklin, Patrick Bayer, S.P. Harish, Johannes Urpelainen
Energy for Sustainable Development 44: 11 – 20 (2018)
Daniel Robert Thomas, Johannes Urpelainen
International Journal of Remote Sensing 39-9: 2690-2701 (2018)
Eugenie Dugoua, Ryan Kennedy, Johannes Urpelainen
Climate Policy 18-7: 839-851 (2017)
Johannes Urpelainen, Thijs Van de Graaf
Energy Research and Social Science 39: 69 – 73 (2017)
Energy for Sustainable Development 42: 54 – 63 (2017)
Chao-yo Cheng, Michaël Aklin, Johannes Urpelainen
How Do Sectoral Interests Shape Distributive Politics? Evidence from Gasoline and Diesel Subsidy Reforms
Review of Policy Research, 2017
Brian Blankenship, Johannes Urpelainen