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Electricity Systems

How can electricity subsidies help combat poverty in Central America?

Liliana Sousa's picture


By Liliana D. Sousa


It might be surprising, but the majority of Central American households receive electricity subsidies, benefiting up to 8 out of 10 households in some cases. Without a doubt, this provides many poor and low-income families with access to affordable electricity.

Keeping the lights on– workable and unworkable approaches to electricity sector reform

Brian Levy's picture

Lethaba Power Station, South AfricaTwo decades ago, when I was working on utility sector reform we knew the answer. Here (using the example of electricity) is what it was: unbundle generation, transmission and distribution; introduce an independent regulator; rebalance prices; privatize. Two decades later, we have learned the stark limits of orchestrating reforms on the basis of ‘best practice’ blueprints such as these.

What would a more ‘with the grain’ approach to electricity sector reform look like? To explore this, I asked my Johns Hopkins SAIS and University of Cape Town students to review how a variety of country efforts unfolded in practice – focusing specifically on efforts to introduce private sector participation into electricity generation. Some striking patterns emerged.  Here I contrast South Africa’s experience with those of Kenya, Peru and Lebanon. The former illustrates powerfully the hazards of ‘best practice’ reforms; the latter point to the promise of  more incremental, cumulative, with the grain approaches.

In 1997, an official South African report signaled that in 2008 the lights would go out if there was no new investment in electricity generation; the report proposed that the country embark on a far-reaching effort to implement the ‘best practices’ template for electricity sector reform, constraining the dominant parastatal, ESKOM, and turning to the private sector for new investment in electricity generation. In 1998, the government adopted the report’s recommendations. In her richly-researched Masters dissertation (available on the link that follows), Nchimunya Hamukoma detailed what happened next.

Contestation over the agenda among competing factions within the ruling African National Congress and its allies interacted with a hugely-ambitious reform design — one for which almost none of the requisite political, institutional, economic and organizational capabilities were in place. The result was that after six futile years of trying, the effort at restructuring and private participation was abandoned, and ESKOM was given a green light to invest in new capacity. But the six lost years – the result of futilely pursuing an unachievable ‘best practice’ chimera – had an inevitable consequence. In 2008, as predicted, the lights went out.

Power Pools: How Cross-Border Trade in Electricity Can Help Meet Development Goals

Michael Pollitt's picture

Power lines strecth over water. Source - DCCXLIXFor nearly three-fifths of the world population, the lack of access to energy is a major challenge to economic development and poverty reduction.

Increasing cross-border trade in electricity can play a major role in helping overcome these challenges. Trade in electricity can help bring down energy prices, mitigate against power shocks, relieve shortages, facilitate decarbonization and provide incentives for market extension and integration.

Yet, countries have been reluctant to trade electricity across borders. Global exports of electricity are currently around 3 percent of total production. This is an anomaly in the energy sector. Think of oil. Roughly 64 percent of all oil produced is traded between countries.

A recent working paper published by the World Bank looks at the institutional arrangements of regional power pools in both developing regions and those in developed countries. In understanding how the regional integration of electricity markets has developed, the paper is able to draw useful lessons for the promotion of future trade arrangements.
 

Why Saving Energy is So Hard

Jas Singh's picture

When most people think about energy, they see big power plants and smokestacks. What people generally do not consider is that it is much cheaper and more environmentally friendly to cut energy use than it is to build new power plants.  

The problem is that saving energy is not simple. It requires changing deep-rooted behavior.