Author Archives: tambo0986

Measuring Benefits from Energy Transitions

Consumer Surplus from Energy Transitions 

by Roger Fouquet (Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE)

Abstract: Energy transitions have led to major advances in human wellbeing. However, little evidence exists about the scale of the net benefits. By developing a new method for identifying the demand curve, and by using a unique, historical data set, this paper estimates the consumer surplus associated with heating, transport and lighting over more than two hundred years and identifies the gains from a number of key energy transitions. For certain energy transitions, the increase was dramatic, reflecting the transformations in society and lifestyles that mobility and illumination provided in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet, the net benefits related to heating technologies only rose modestly. Finally, due to saturation effects of the demand for energy services, future technological developments and energy transitions may benefit consumers (though not necessarily society as a whole) less than those in the past.

URL: https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:lsg:lsgwps:wp277

Circulated by NEP-HIS on 2017‒10‒22

Review by: Cristián Ducoing (Lund University)

 

Energy Transition

Summary

The current research focus in energy transitions is mainly motivated by the environmental implications of energy consumption. This more than justified direction has relegated to a second place the analysis of the enormous benefits derived from energy transitions, specially when we observe consumers’ welfare.  This new paper by Roger Fouquet analyses the positive impacts of energy transitions (hereafter, ET) by looking into how each ET generates consumer surplus.

roger_fouquet

Roger Fouquet

This paper combines data sets from two previous works of the author about the United Kingdom on service prices between 1300 and 2010 (Fouquet 2011a), and service consumption between 1700 and 2010 (Fouquet 2014). The data sources and methodologies used were explained in Fouquet (2008). In brief, Fouquet has done an upgrade of his former estimations to measure how much welfare we have obtained by ET. The author follows a standard measure of welfare (how less consumers pay for a specific service) and he applies it to each ET during the last two centuries in the United Kingdom.

income_price_elasticity

Figure 1: Income Price Elasticity of Demand for Energy Services in the United Kingdom, 1800 – 2008

As shown in the examples in Figure 1, a key advantage of focusing on energy services, rather than on fuels (energy carriers), is that the demand for services remains comparable with the introduction of new goods and technologies. 

Figure3

Figure 2: Consumer Expenditure on Domestic Heating, Passenger Transport and Lighting as a share of GDP in the United Kingdom, 1800 – 2010

The conclusions extracted from the paper could be summarized as follows:

  1. Attempts to estimate consumer surplus face enormous challenges, mainly by the effects of disruptive technologies. However, it could be possible to get an approximation taking into account the methodology used by Nordhaus (1997). Moreover, the paper presents a novel method that allows to identify the changes in demand curves for energy services (lightning, heating and transport).
  2. There were dramatic increases in consumer surplus due to energy transition in transport (stagecoaches to railways) and lightning (candles to gaslight and to electric lightning).
  3. Developing countries are benefited by increasing energy consumption. On the other hand, benefits in developed countries could be lower than in the past.
  4. The method offered allow us to forecast the long-run net benefits of new energy technologies and transitions. This issue has enormous policy implications in relation with the environmental challenges that we are facing us.

Comment

Currently, to defend energy systems/consumption as mechanisms of progress and development is quite complicated, specially if the energy systems contain fossil fuels, such as the main energy carriers in the case of the United Kingdom. This paper focuses its attention on the “good side” of energy consumption and mechanization, tackling a compulsory debate on the trade-off between economic development and sustainability. Roger Fouquet has mentioned this debate in an 2016 article, where he analyzed the lessons from history to our current energy transition. Now, Fouquet has demonstrated, accounting for the consumer surplus, than previous energy transitions have been beneficial for consumers/population. The question is: how should the current and  future energy transition be carried? In order to achieve economic development, countries pursuing higher income levels require an increase in energy consumption.  Fossil fuels still are a valid option to increase energy consumption; a low carbon economy could be farther in the road than we thought. A challenge to global society is to create an economic environment favorable to clean energy technologies, in order to promote economic growth in low income regions without the deprivation of our natural resources and environment.    

As this paper has shown us, there are periods when the increase in energy consumption has been beneficial to aggregate welfare, at least from a country/region perspective. However, the current global situation doesn’t allow an increase in energy consumption based in fossil fuels without risking main environmental equilibriums.

The only possible criticism to the paper is the implicit “normative” scope supported by one country experience. Nevertheless, Fouquet presented this paper as a starting point for further research.

References

Fouquet, R. (2011a) “Divergences in Long Run Trends in the Prices of Energy and Energy Services.” Review of Environmental Economics and Policy 5(2) 196-218.

Fouquet, R. (2014) “Long Run Demand for Energy Services: Income and Price Elasticities over 200 Years.” Review of Environmental Economics and Policy 8(2) 186-207.

Fouquet, R. (2008) Heat Power and Light: Revolutions in Energy Services. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

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Where is the growth?

Mismeasuring Long Run Growth: The Bias from Spliced National Accounts

by Leandro Prados de la Escosura (Carlos III)

Abstract: Comparisons of economic performance over space and time largely depend on how statistical evidence from national accounts and historical estimates are spliced. To allow for changes in relative prices, GDP benchmark years in national accounts are periodically replaced with new and more recent ones. Thus, a homogeneous long-run GDP series requires linking different temporal segments of national accounts. The choice of the splicing procedure may result in substantial differences in GDP levels and growth, particularly as an economy undergoes deep structural transformation. An inadequate splicing may result in a serious bias in the measurement of GDP levels and growth rates.

Alternative splicing solutions are discussed in this paper for the particular case of Spain, a fast growing country in the second half of the twentieth century. It is concluded that the usual linking procedure, retropolation, has serious flows as it tends to bias GDP levels upwards and, consequently, to underestimate growth rates, especially for developing countries experiencing structural change. An alternative interpolation procedure is proposed.

Source: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/cgewacage/202.htm

Distributed in NEP-HIS on 2015 – 01 – 09

Reviewed by Cristián Ducoing

Dealing with National Accounts (hereafter NA) is a hard; dealing with NA in the long run is even harder…..

Broadly speaking, a quick and ready comparison of economic performance for a period of sixty years or more, would typically source its data from the Maddison project. However and as with any other human endevour, this data is not free from error. Potential and actual errors in measuring economic growth is highly relevant economic history research, particularly if we want to improve its public policy impact. See for instance the (brief) discussion in Xavier Marquez’s blog around how the choice of measure can significantly under or overstate importance of Lee Kuan Yew as ruler of Singapore.

The paper by Leandro Prados de la Escosura, therefore, contributes to a growing debate around establishing which is the “best” GDP measure to ascertain economic performance in the long run (i.e. 60 or more years). For some time now Prados de la Escosura has been searching for new ways to measure economic development in the long run. This body of work is now made out of over 60 articles in peer reviewed journals, book chapters and academic books. In this paper, the latest addition to assessing welfare levels in the long run, Prados de la Escosura discusses the problems in using alternative benchmarks and issues of spliced NA in a country with a notorious structural change, Spain. The main hypothesis developed in this article is to ascertain differences that could appear in the long run NA according to the method used to splice NA benchmarks. So, the BIG question is retropolation or interpolation?

Leandro Prados de la Escosura. Source: www.aehe.net

Leandro Prados de la Escosura. Source: http://www.aehe.net

Retropolation: As Prados de la Escosura says, involves a method that is …, widely used by national accountants (and implicitly accepted in international comparisons). [T]he backward projection, or retropolation, approach, accepts the reference level provided by the most recent benchmark estimate…. In other words, the researcher accepts the current benchmark and splits it with the past series (using the variation rates of the past estimations). What is the issue here? Selecting the most recent benchmark results in a higher GDP estimate because, by its nature, this benchmark encompasses a greater number of economic activities. For instance, the ranking of relative income for the UK and France changes significantly when including estimates of prostitution and narcotrafic. This “weird” example shows how with a higher current level and using past variation rates, long-run estimates of GDP will be artificially improved in value. This approach thus can lead us to find historical anomalies such as a richer Spain overtaking France in the XIXth century (See Prados de la Escosura figure 3 below).

An alternative to the backward projection linkage is the interpolation procedure. This method accepts the levels computed directly for each benchmark year as the best possible estimates, on the grounds that they have been obtained with ”complete” information on quantities and prices in the earlier period. This procedure keeps the initial level unaltered, probably being lower than the level estimated by the retropolation approach.

There are two more recent methods to splice NA series derived from the methods described above: the “mixed splicing” proposed by Angel de la Fuente (2014), which uses a parameter to capture the severity of the initial error in the original benchmark. The problem with this solution is the arbitrary value assigned (parameter). Let’s see it graphically and using data for the Maddison project. As it is well known, these figures were recently updated by Jutta Bolt and Jan Luiten van Zanden while the database built thanks to the contributions of several scholars around the world and using a same currency (i.e. the international Geary-Kheamy dollar) to measure NA. Now, in figure 1 shows a plot of GDP per capita of France, UK, USA and Spain using data from the Madison project.

GDP per capita $G-K 1990. France, UK, USA and Spain. 1850 – 2012

The graph suggests that Spain was always poorer than France. But this could change if the chosen method to split NA is the retropolation approach. Probably we need a graph just with France to appreciate the differences. Please see figure 2:

GDP pc Ratio between Spain and France. Bolt&vanZanden (2014) with data from Prados de la Escosura (2003)

GDP pc Ratio between Spain and France. Bolt&vanZanden (2014) with data from Prados de la Escosura (2003)

Figure 2 now suggests an apparent convergence of Spain with France in the period 1957 to 2006. The average growth rate for Spain in this period was almost 3,5% p.a. and in the case of France average growth shrinks to 2,2% p.a. Anecdotal observation as well as documented evidence around Spainish levels of inequality and poverty make this result hard to believe. Prados de la Escosura goes on to help us ascertain this differences in measurement graphically by brining together estimates of retropolation and interpolation approaches in a single graph (see figure 3 below):

Figure 3. Spain’s Comparative Real Per Capita GDP with Alternative Linear Splicing (2011 EKS $) (logs).

Figure 3. Spain’s Comparative Real Per Capita GDP with Alternative Linear Splicing (2011 EKS $) (logs).

In summary, this paper by Prados de la Escosura is a great contribution to the debate on long run economic performance. It poises interesting challenges scholars researching long-term growth and dealing with NA and international comparisons. The benchmarks and split between different sources is always a source of problems to international comparative studies but also to long-term study of the same country. Moving beyond the technical implications discussed by Prados de la Escosura in this paper, economic history research could benefit from a debate to look for alternative measures or proxies for long-run growth, because GDP as the main source of international comparisons is becoming “dated” and ineffective to deal with new research in inequality, genuine savings Genuine Savings, energy consumption, complexity and gaps between development and developed countries to name but a few.

References

Bolt, J. and J. L. van Zanden (2014). The Maddison Project: collaborative research on historical national accounts. The Economic History Review, 67 (3): 627–651.

Prados de la Escosura, Leandro  (2003) El progreso económico de España (1850-2000). Madrid, Fundación BBVA, , 762 pp.

PS:

1) This paper by Prados de la Escosura has already been published in Cliometrica and with the same title

2) Prados de la Escosura’s A new historical database on economic freedom in OECD countries | VOX, CEPR’s Policy Portal.