Thursday, October 31, 2013

Australia Needs Electronic Voting

Back in 2000 the US presidential election ended in a debacle due to "hanging chads" in Florida. This year the federal election here in Australia we have a similar debacle in Western Australia with ballot papers going missing. This follows an attempted recount there as well as a recount in the lower house seat of Fairfax in Queensland, where it seems that Clive Palmer has been confirmed as the winner with a different margin than either the first round count or the first recount... These problems would be solved by electronic voting. Here in the ACT we do have the option to vote electronically in the Territory election. I don't see why we couldn't do this nationally. Also, in the ACT election the officials look up voters on laptop computers instead of "telephone books" before giving them their voting materials. At the Federal election it was back to paper.

Evolution of the UK REF

Interesting article on how the UK's Research Excellence Framework evolved. An interesting comment is: "Per pound distributed, the RAE and REF are vastly cheaper than distributing the same sums via grant applications to the research councils" Very significant funding is tied to the results of the REF. By contrast, the Australian system is primarily driven by winning grants and then getting overheads based on them sent to institutions by the government a couple of years later with a smoothing process over time. PhD completions also feature strongly. So far, the ERA is only linked to a very small allocation of funding.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Survey of Australian Economists on Climate Policy

Fairfax Media surveyed 35 Australian economists on climate policy. Only two (Paul Frijters and Craig James) supported the government's direct action plan. 30 supported emissions trading or a carbon tax and three supported neither direct action nor carbon pricing. They didn't ask me but depending on how the question was worded I might either have been with the 30 or with the 3 who said neither, who seem to have included my colleague Warwick McKibbin. If they asked whether we supported the previous government's policy, then I'd probably have said no, though it was preferable to no action and maybe to "direct action" too, if they asked about carbon pricing in general then it would have been a yes. Anyway, it now seems that Labor will vote to abolish carbon pricing. On the other hand, it looks like they'll oppose direct action. So then what the minor parties think will be important.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Special Issue of Energies: Call for Papers

Energies is an open access journal on all topics relating to energy. I have agreed to be the guest editor of a special issue on energy transitions and economic change. The journal is indexed in both the Web of Science and Scopus with an impact factor of 1.844 (5 year IF = 2.087) and a SNIP of 1.296 (SJR = 0.543). I am looking for contributions on all topics related to energy transitions past, present, and future (the theme of my current funded research project) and related economic changes. I'm looking for a broad interpretation of energy transition to include not just changes in energy carriers used but also in the scale of energy use. Some of the topics that could be covered are:
  • economics of new renewable energy technologies
  • energy efficiency and the rebound effect
  • energy ladder in developing countries
  • historical energy transitions (biomass to coal, coal to oil etc.)
  • role of energy in economic growth
  • energy and climate change
  • energy security
  • peak oil
  • economics of unconventional fossil fuels
 But this is just to give you an idea of the type of papers we are looking for. The deadline for submissions is 15 July 2014 but early submissions that pass the refereeing process before that date will be published before then.

I look forward to some interesting submissions and will update the blog with progress.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Carbon Co-benefits of Tighter SO2 and NOx Regulations in China

An in press paper by Nam et al. in Global Environmental Change uses a CGE model to estimate the co-benefits in terms of reduced CO2 emissions from the tougher new policies on SO2 and NOx emissions in the current Chinese 5 year plan. They find very large co-benefits with a reduction in CO2 emissions of 1.4 billion tonnes by 2015 alone. In later (post-plan) years these come to a large extent from switching to non-fossil energy. But in the short-run a large part of the reductions come from reducing energy use very significantly as shown in this figure from the paper:

The figure shows the reduction in energy use relative to business as usual in exajoules under an SO2 and NOx policy alone with no climate policy. For context, current Chinese energy use is in the rough ballpark of 100 exajoules a year. So the figure shows that by 2020 the reduction in energy use due to the policy relative to BAU is around this current level of Chinese energy use. This is simply huge. The policy also induces a complete shift away from using coal to generate electricity after 2040. The reason that the RHS figure above shows reduced coal use flattening out after 2035, is because China would already be using hardly any coal under this scenario.

Looking at historical analogs, when the US introduced tightened caps on SO2 emissions in the early 1990s there was some fuel switching in the long run to natural gas and other electric generation sources, but the main choice that electricity generators made was to switch to lower sulfur coal, to install scrubbers, and to use coal washing etc. I have less detailed knowledge of the reaction in Europe to similar policies but it involved these things in different proportions (more scrubbers and natural gas from what I understand). Presumably electricity use did fall a bit due to higher costs but not on a huge scale.

This model does not seem to have a low sulfur coal option though it does have a scrubber style abatement technology. Switching to natural gas can save some energy as it is a more efficient fuel for electricity generation and switching to renewables can save a lot of energy depending on how renewables are accounted for. But these things mostly happen after 2020 in this paper. So most of the reduced emissions are from reducing energy use on a large scale. Nothing like this happened in the US or Europe (or elsewhere) in reaction to such policies.

My thinking is that the large energy use reductions relative to BAU must be due to high elasticities of substitution between energy and other inputs (the model uses nested CES functions) or other model features that are not immediately apparent to me. The costs of the policy seem to be quite small in the first ten years, so the reduced energy use does not have a big economic impact in the short-run.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Econometric Approach to Detection and Attribution of Climate Change in IPCC AR5 Report

It seems odd to put the full Working Group 1 report on the open web but then say that it shouldn't be quoted or cited. But, anyway, it's nice to see that a fairly extensive discussion of the econometric approach to detecting and attributing climate change made it into the final draft of the report. The text of the final draft of the Working Group 3 report is just in the process of being submitted to the TSU. Last Friday was supposed to be the deadline. The government approval session will take place in April next year. So, some way to go to publication for us.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Injection of Carbon in the PETM Happened "Instantaneously"

Fascinating paper. They suggest that the most consistent explanation for the observations is that the Earth was hit by a carbon rich comet. I'm skeptical of the former though because a comet containing that much carbon would have to be very large and so would expect larger general effects from that. If it was pure dry ice then it would have a radius of 12km to generate a 3000GT increase in carbon in the atmosphere. Because methane is less dense, about the same radius is needed for that compound too despite its lower molecular mass per atom of carbon. That is the same scale as the object that ended the Cretaceous period though, of course, less massive if the Chicxulub impactor was rocky. And it seems unlikely that it would be pure carbon dioxide or methane and then would need to be even bigger. Perhaps the object was smaller but the impact occurred in a limestone area?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Economics Blog Aggregator:

Economists who are blogging about economics research can ask to have their blog included in Then, any post that refers to an abstract page on RePEc will automatically be included in the list of blogposts. It's a useful resource on the latest economics research or a way to find new blogs you might be interested in following.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

External Impact and Ideal Academic Careers

A couple of interesting papers on the sociology of science. Paper by Chan et al. (authors include Frey and Torgler) on the relationship between external influence (measured using Google hits) and academic influence in economics. Winning the Nobel Prize or the John Bates Clark Medal helps :)

Paper by Janger and Nowotny uses a choice experiment to find what academics value in potential jobs. They find that US tenure track jobs at research universities closely match the bundle of desired characteristics.