Tag: Energy Talk

Navigating Environmental Policy Consistency Amidst Political Change

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Europe, like other parts of the world, currently grapples with the dual challenges of environmental change and democratic backsliding. In a context marked by rising populism, misinformation, and political manipulation, designing credible sustainable climate policies is more important than ever. The 2024 annual Energy Talk, organized by the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE), gathered experts to bring insight into these challenges and explore potential solutions for enhancing green politics.

In the last decades, the EU has taken significant steps to tackle climate change. Yet, there is much to be done to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The rise of right-wing populists in countries like Italy and Slovakia, and economic priorities that overshadow environmental concerns, such as the pause of environmental regulations in France and reduced gasoline taxes in Sweden, are significantly threatening the green transition. The current political landscape, characterized by democratic backsliding and widespread misinformation, poses severe challenges for maintaining green policy continuity in the EU. The discussions at SITEs Energy Talk 2024 highlighted the need to incorporate resilience into policy design to effectively manage political fluctuations and ensure the sustainability and popular support of environmental policies. This policy brief summarizes the main points from the presentations and discussions.

Policy Sustainability

In his presentation, Michaël Aklin, Associate Professor of Economics and Chair of Policy & Sustainability at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, emphasized the need for environmental, economic, and social sustainability into climate policy frameworks. This is particularly important, and challenging given that key sectors of the economy are difficult to decarbonize, such as energy production, transportation, and manufacturing. Additionally, the energy demand in Europe is expected to increase drastically (mainly due to electrification), with supply simultaneously declining (in part due to nuclear power phaseout in several member states, such as Germany). Increasing storage capacity, enhancing demand flexibility, and developing transmission infrastructure all require large, long-term investments, and uncompromising public policy. However, these crucial efforts are at risk due to ongoing political uncertainty. Aklin argued that a politics-resilient climate policy design is essential to avoid market fragmentation, decrease cooperation, and ensure the support for green policies.  Currently, industrial policy is seen as the silver bullet, in particular, because it can create economies of scale and ensure political commitment to major projects. However, as Aklin explained, it is not an invincible solution, as such projects may also be undermined by capacity constraints and labour shortages.

Energy Policy Dynamics

Building on Aklin’s insights, Thomas Tangerås, Associate Professor at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics, explored the evolution of Swedish energy policy. Tangerås focused on ongoing shifts in support for nuclear power and renewables, driven by changes in government coalitions. Driven by an ambition to ensure energy security, Sweden historically invested in both hydro and nuclear power stations. In the wake of the Three Mile Island accident, public opinion however shifted and following a referendum in 1980, a nuclear shutdown by 2010 was promised. In the new millennia, the first push for renewables in 2003, was followed by the right-wing government’s nuclear resurgence in 2010, allowing new reactors to replace old ones. In 2016 there was a second renewable push when the left-wing coalition set the goal of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2040 (although with no formal ban on nuclear). This target was however recently reformulated with the election of the right-wing coalition in 2022, which, supported by the far-right party, launched a nuclear renaissance. The revised objective is to achieve 100 percent fossil-free electricity by 2040, with nuclear power playing a crucial role in the clean energy mix.

The back-and-forth energy policy in Sweden has led to high uncertainty. A more consistent policy approach could increase stability and minimize investment risks in the energy sector. Three aspects should be considered to foster a stable and resilient investment climate while mitigating political risks, Tangerås concluded: First, a market-based support system should be established; second, investments must be legally protected, even in the event of policy changes; and third, financial and ownership arrangements must be in place to protect against political expropriation and to facilitate investments, for example, through contractual agreements for advance power sales.

The Path to Net-Zero: A Polish Perspective

Circling back to the need for climate policy to be socially sustainable, Paweł Wróbel, Energy and climate regulatory affairs professional, Founder of GateBrussels, and Managing Director of BalticWind.EU, gave an account of Poland’s recent steps towards the green transition.

Poland is currently on an ambitious path of reaching net-zero, with the new government promising to step up the effort, backing a 90 percent greenhouse gas reduction target for 2040 recently proposed by the EU However, the transition is framed by geopolitical tensions in the region and the subsequent energy security issues as well as high energy prices in the industrial sector. Poland’s green transition is further challenged by social issues given the large share of the population living in coal mining areas (one region, Silesia, accounts for 12 percent of the polish population alone). Still, by 2049, the coal mining is to be phased out and coal in the energy mix is to be phased out even by 2035/2040 – optimistic objectives set by the government in agreement with Polish trade unions.

In order to achieve this, and to facilitate its green transition, Poland has to make use of its large offshore wind potential. This is currently in an exploratory phase and is expected to generate 6 GW by 2030, with a support scheme in place for an addition 12 GW. In addition, progress has been achieved in the adoption of solar power, with prosumers driving the progress in this area. More generally, the private sectors’ share in the energy market is steadily increasing, furthering investments in green technology. However, further investments into storage capacity, transmission, and distribution are crucial as the majority of Polands’ green energy producing regions lie in the north while industries are mainly found in the south.

Paralleling the argument of Aklin, Wróbel also highlighted that Poland’s high industrialization (with about 6 percent of the EU’s industrial production) may slow down the green transition due to the challenges of greening the energy used by this sector. The latter also includes higher energy prices which undermines Poland’s competitiveness on the European market.


The SITE Energy Talk 2024 catalyzed discussions about developing lasting and impactful environmental policies in times of political and economic instability. It also raised questions about how to balance economic growth and climate targets. To achieve its 2050 climate neutrality goals, the EU must implement flexible and sustainable policies supported by strong regulatory and political frameworks – robust enough to withstand economic and political pressures. To ensure democratic processes, it is crucial to address the threat posed by centralised governments decisions, political lock-ins, and large projects (with potential subsequent backlashes). This requires the implementation of fair policies, clearly communicating the benefits of the green transition.

On behalf of the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, we would like to thank Michaël Aklin, Thomas Tangerås and Paweł Wróbel for participating in this year’s Energy Talk.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

The Future of Energy Infrastructure Resilience in Europe

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In the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, large parts of Europe have experienced skyrocketing energy prices and a threat of power shortages. The need to transition to low-carbon energy systems, driven by sustainability concerns, further adds to the pressure put on the European energy infrastructure. This year’s Energy Talk, organized by Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, invited four experts to discuss the opportunities and challenges of energy infrastructure resilience in a foreseeable future.


Energy infrastructure has an indispensable role in facilitating the functioning of modern society, and it must – today as well as in the future – be resilient enough to withstand various challenges. One of the most important challenges – the green transition: shifting towards economically sustainable growth by decarbonizing energy systems and steering away from fossil fuels – requires energy infrastructure to absorb subsequent shocks. Another, and preeminent challenge, is that, even when directly targeted and partly destroyed as in the ongoing Russian war on Ukraine, energy infrastructure should be withstanding. Additionally, energy infrastructure is increasingly subject to supply chain disruptions, energy costs increase or network congestions. How does our energy infrastructure react to these challenges? How do they affect its ability to facilitate the needs of the green transition? Which regulations/measures should be implemented to facilitate energy infrastructure resilience?

Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) invited four speakers to the 2023 annual Energy Talk to discuss the future of Europe’s Energy infrastructure resilience. This brief summarizes the main points from the presentations and discussions.

Energy System Resilience in the Baltics

Ewa Lazarczyk, Associate Professor at Reykjavik University, addressed the question of energy system resilience, focusing on the Baltic States and their dependence on Russia and other neighbors to fulfill their electricity needs.

The Baltic States are not self-sufficient when it comes to electricity consumption. Since 2009, Lithuania has become a net importer of electricity, relying on external sources to fulfill its electricity demand. Similarly, Estonia experienced a shift towards becoming a net importer of electricity around 2019, following the closure of environmentally detrimental oil fueled power plants.

The Baltics are integrated with the Nordic market and are heavily dependent on electricity imports from Finland and Sweden. Additionally, all three Baltic States are part of the BRELL network – a grid linking the electricity systems of Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – which provides stability for their electrical networks. As a result, despite the absence of commercial electricity trading between Estonia and Russia, and limited commercial trading between Russia and the other two Baltic states, the power flows between the Baltic States and Russia and Belarus still exist. This creates a noticeable dependency of the Baltics on Russia, and a potential threat, should Russia decide to disconnect the Baltics from BRELL before the planned separation in 2024/2025.

This dependency was put on trial when Russia on May 15th 2022 cut its electricity trade with Europe. On the one hand, the system proved to be relatively resilient as the cut did not lead to any blackouts in the Baltics. On the other hand, price volatility amplified in its main import partner countries, Sweden and Finland, and congestion increased as compared to 2021.

Figure 1. Price volatility in Sweden and Finland before and after the trade cut.

Notes: Sweden is split into four price zones, SE1-SE4. Finland is split into only one price zone. Source: Lazarczyk and Le Coq, 2023.

This increased price volatility and congestion following the Russian halt in electricity trade gives an indication that the Baltics and the Nordics are vulnerable to relatively small supply cuts even at the current demand levels.

In the future, electricity consumption is however expected to increase throughout the region as a result of the electrification of the economy (e.g., by 65 percent in 2050 in the Nordic region). This highlights the need to speed up investments into energy infrastructure of internal energy markets.

In summary; recent events have demonstrated a remarkable resilience of the Baltic State’s electricity system. While the disruption of commercial flows from Russia did have some impact on the region, overall, the outcome was positive. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the region relies heavily on electricity imports, and with increasing demand for power in both the Baltics and the neighboring areas, potential issues with supply security could arise if the demand in the Nordics cannot be met through increased production. The risk of an early disconnection from the BRELL network further amplifies this concern. However, the case of Ukraine – which managed to abruptly disconnect from Russian electricity networks – serves as an example that expediting the process of establishing new connections is feasible, although not risk free.

The Ukrainian Energy Sector and the Immediate Threat from Russia

While the Baltics are facing the effects from the Russian halt in electricity trade and the threat of a potential premature disconnection from BRELL, Ukraine’s energy networks are at the same time experiencing the direct aggression from Russia.

Yuliya Markuts, Head of the Center of Public Finance and Governance at the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE), and Igor Piddubnyi, Analyst on Energy Sector Damages and Losses and Researcher at the Center for Food and Land Use Research at KSE, both gave insight into the tremendous damages to the Ukrainian energy system from Russian attacks, the short-term solutions to cope with the damage, as well as the long-term implications and reconstruction perspectives.

Since the invasion, about 50 percent of the energy infrastructure has been damaged by shelling. In addition, several power plants are under Russian control or located in Russian occupied territories. As of February 2023, nearly 16 GW of installed capacities of power plants remained in Russian control, equivalent of the peak demand. Apart from the damages to the producing side, transmission and distribution facilities have also been severely affected, as well as oil storage facilities. In April 2023, the damages to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure were estimated to amount to $8.3 billion, almost 6 percent of the total estimated direct damages from the war.

While the damages are massive, the population did not experience complete blackouts, and the Ukrainian energy system did not collapse. This is partly due to diesel-driven generators substituting much of the damaged electricity generation and partly due to a fall in demand of about 30-35 percent in 2022, mainly driven by decreased industry demand.

In the short term, Ukraine is likely to continue to face Russian attacks. Its top energy priorities would thus be to restore damaged facilities and infrastructure like heating and clean water, increase the stocks of fuel, gas, and coal, and to try to liberate occupied areas and facilities. Another vital aspect of the Ukrainian energy infrastructure and its resilience towards the Russian goal of “freezing” the country relates to energy efficiency. Ukraine’s energy efficiency has been relatively low, with the highest rate of electricity losses in Europe, and the numbers are also high for gas supply and district heating. Here, minor changes such as light bulb switching, can have great impacts. Additionally, solar panels – especially those that can also store energy – can help alleviate the acute pressure on the transmission grid. Other vital measures involve continued donations from Ukraine’s partners, sustained efforts from energy workers – at the risk of their lives – and persistent successful deterrence of cyber-attacks currently targeting the country.

Achieving a greener energy system is currently challenging (if not nearly impossible) due to the use of diesel-driven generators, the attacks on the energy system, and the fight for control over nuclear power plants such as Zaporizhzhia, which since March 2022 is under the control of Russian forces. Damages to renewable energy production further exacerbate these difficulties.

Thus, it is crucial to ensure that the planning and reconstruction of Ukraine’s energy sector is done in accordance with the European Green Deal. By 2030, the country should have at least 25 percent renewables in its energy mix, which would require substantial installations of at least 13 GW of wind, solar, small hydro and biogas capacities. In addition, transition entails decommissioning old coal power plants to run on natural or biogas instead of coal.

While this is a tall task, investments targeted to the energy system are not only essential for Ukraine’s population to sustain through the 2023/2024 winter – but also to facilitate the green transition in Europe. The potential for export of biomethane, green hydrogen, and nuclear power from Ukraine to Europe is considerable. As Europe’s biofuel demand is expected to increase by 63 percent while Ukrainian grain exports are still proving to be challenging, biofuel production for export on the European market is a particularly likely future scenario for the Ukrainian energy market.

In summary; the Ukrainian energy sector has done remarkably well, considering the impact of the damages from the Russian aggression. As Ukrainian short-term energy priorities lie in facilitating quick and efficient responses to infrastructural damages, current measures may not be particularly environmentally friendly. However, the longer-term reconstruction of Ukraine’s energy sector has great potential for being in line with the green transition objectives.

Energy System’s Resilience in the Green Transition

Mikael Toll, Senior Advisor at Ramboll Management Consulting highlighted the importance of infrastructure resilience. He emphasized the significance of the Energy Trilemma in achieving a successful transition to greener energy systems. This trilemma implies balancing between energy security, environmental sustainability, and affordability, all representing societal goals. Focusing on the energy security aspect of this trilemma, he stressed that energy infrastructure should be part of a more holistic approach to the problem. It is essential to establish resilient supply chains and implement efficient management procedures to prevent and mitigate the negative consequences of disruptions. It entails ensuring the performant infrastructure and supply, but also fostering well-functioning markets, putting in place state-governed crisis management mechanisms, and cooperation with other states. By combining these elements, one can enhance preparedness both in normal times and during crises.

Sweden as an Example

Sweden has since long been increasing its share of renewables in the energy mix, as depicted in Figure 2. This suggests that it is relatively well-prepared to the needs of the green transition. However, electricity demand is expected to increase by 100 percent in the coming years, driven by increased electrification of the industry and transport sectors, adding pressure to Sweden’s electricity system. The need for more investments in several energy systems is tangible, and investment opportunities are numerous. However, political decisions concerning the energy system in Sweden tend to be short-sighted, even though energy infrastructures have a long lifespan – often well over 50 years. As a result, investment risks are often high and change character over time, which creates a lack of infrastructure investment. Other challenges to Sweden’s energy resilience include limited acceptance of new energy infrastructure among the public, time-consuming approval processes, and a lack of thorough impact assessment.

Figure 2. Total supplied energy in Sweden, 1970-2020.

Source: Swedish Energy Agency, 2022.

Further, the current geopolitical context creates an increased need to consider external threats – such as energy system disruptions resulting from the Russian war on Ukraine – and increased dependency on China as a key supplier of metals and batteries required for electrification. It is also important to realize that external influence may affect not only physical infrastructure but also domestic decision-making processes. This calls for more energy and political security alongside the green transition, in combination with higher readiness against security threats and a reassessment of global value chains.

In summary; to successfully move into a greener future, it is necessary to invest in energy systems and infrastructure based on a careful multi-dimensional analysis and with the support of long-sighted political decisions. At the same time, we must push investments that also consider the security threats from and dependencies on global actors.


This year’s Energy Talk provided an opportunity to hear from leading experts on the current situation of Europe’s energy resilience. It outlined the key challenges of the green transition in the current geopolitical and economic context. Greener solutions for Europe’s energy system will require tremendous physical efforts and investments but also political will and public understanding. There are, however, immense benefits to be realized if the associated risks are not overlooked.

On behalf of the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, we would like to thank Ewa Lazarczyk, Yuliya Markuts, Igor Piddubnyi and Mikael Toll for participating in this year’s Energy Talk. The presentations from the webinar can be seen here.


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Energy Storage: Opportunities and Challenges

Wind turbines in a sunny desert representing energy storage

As the dramatic consequences of climate change are starting to unfold, addressing the intermittency of low-carbon energy sources, such as solar and wind, is crucial. The obvious solution to intermittency is energy storage. However, its constraints and implications are far from trivial. Developing and facilitating energy storage is associated with technological difficulties as well as economic and regulatory problems that need to be addressed to spur investments and foster competition. With these issues in mind, the annual Energy Talk, organized by the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, invited three experts to discuss the challenges and opportunities of energy storage.


The intermittency of renewable energy sources poses one of the main challenges in the race against climate change. As the balance between electricity supply and demand must be maintained at all times, a critical step in decarbonizing the global energy sector is to enhance energy storage capacity to compensate for intermittent renewables.

Storage systems create opportunities for new entrants as well as established players in the wind and solar industry. But they also present challenges, particularly in terms of investment and economic impact.

Transitioning towards renewables, adopting green technologies, and developing energy storage can be particularly difficult for emerging economies. Some countries may be forced to clean a carbon-intensive power sector at the expense of economic progress.

The 2021 edition of Energy Talk – an annual seminar organized by the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics – invited three international experts to discuss the challenges and opportunities of energy storage from a variety of academic and regulatory perspectives. This brief summarizes the main points of the discussion.

A TSO’s Perspective

Niclas Damsgaard, the Chief strategist at Svenska kraftnät, gave a brief overview of the situation from a transmission system operator’s (TSO’s) viewpoint. He highlighted several reasons for a faster, larger-scale, and more variable development of energy storage. For starters, the green transition implies that we are moving towards a power system that requires the supply of electricity to follow the demand to a much larger extent. The fact that the availability of renewable energy is not constant over time makes it crucial to save power when the need for electricity is low and discharge it when demand is high. However, the development and facilitation of energy storage will not happen overnight, and substantial measures on the demand side are also needed to ensure a more dynamic energy system. Indeed, Damsgaard emphasized that demand flexibility constitutes a necessary element in the current decarbonization process. However, with the long-run electrification of the economy (particularly driven by the transition of the transport industry), extensive energy storage will be a necessary complement to demand flexibility.

It is worth mentioning that such electrification is likely to create not only adaptation challenges but also opportunities for the energy systems. For example, the current dramatic decrease in battery costs (around 90% between 2010 and 2020) is, to a significant extent, associated with an increased adoption of electric vehicles.

However, even such a drastic decline in prices may still fall short of fully facilitating the new realities of the fast-changing energy sector. One of the new challenges is the possibility to store energy for extended periods of time, for example, to benefit from the differences in energy demand across months or seasons. Lithium-ion batteries, the dominant battery technology today, work well to store for a few hours or days, but not for longer storage, as such batteries self-discharge over time. Hence, to ensure sufficient long-term storage, more batteries would be needed and the associated cost would be too high, despite the above-mentioned price decrease. Alternative technological solutions may be necessary to resolve this problem.

Energy Storage and Market Structure

As emphasized above, energy storage facilitates the integration of renewables into the power market, reduces the overall cost of generating electricity, and limits carbon-based backup capacities required for the security of supply, creating massive gains for society. However, because the technological costs are still high, it is unclear whether the current economic environment will induce efficient storage. In particular, does the market provide optimal incentives for investment, or is there a need for regulations to ensure this?

Natalia Fabra, Professor of Economics and Head of EnergyEcoLab at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, shared insights from her (and co-author’s) recent paper that addresses these questions. The paper studies how firms’ incentives to operate and invest in energy storage change when firms in storage and/or production have market power.

Fabra argued that storage pricing depends on how decisions about the storage investment and generation are allocated between the regulator and the firms operating in the storage and generation markets. Comparing different market structures, she showed as market power increases, the aggregate welfare and the consumer surplus decline. Still, even at the highest level of market concentration, an integrated storage-generation monopolist firm, society and consumers are better off than without energy storage.

Fabra’s model also predicts that market power is likely to result in inefficient storage investment.

If the storage market is competitive, firms maximize profits by storing energy when the prices are low and releasing when the prices are high. The free entry condition implies that there are investments in storage capacity as long as the marginal benefit of storage investment is higher than the marginal cost of adding an additional unit of storage. But this precisely reflects the societal gains from storage; so, the competitive market will replicate the regulator solution, and there are no investment distortions.

If there is market power in either generation or storage markets, or both, the investment is no longer efficient. Under market power in generation and perfectly competitive storage, power generating firms will have the incentive to supply less electricity when demand is high and thereby increase the price. As a result, the induced price volatility will inflate arbitrage profits for competitive storage firms, potentially leading to overinvestment.

If the model features a monopolist storage firm interacting with a perfectly competitive power generation market, the effect is reversed. The firm internalizes the price it either buys or sells energy, so profit maximization makes it buy and sell less energy than it would in a competitive market, in the exact same manner as the classical monopolist/monopsonist does. This underutilization of storage leads to underinvestment.

If the model considers a vertically integrated (VI) generation-storage firm with market power in both sectors, the incentives to invest are further weakened: the above-mentioned storage monopolist distortion is exacerbated as storage undermines profits from generation.

Using data on the Spanish electricity market, the study also demonstrated that investments in renewables and storage have a complementary relationship. While storage increases renewables’ profitability by reducing the energy wasted when the availability is excess, renewables increase arbitrage profits due to increased volatility in the price.

In summary, Fabra’s presentation highlighted that the benefits of storage depend significantly on the market power and the ownership structure of storage. Typically, market power in production leads to higher volatility in prices across demand levels; in turn, storage monopolist creates productive inefficiencies, two situations that ultimately translate into higher prices for consumers and a sub-optimal level of investment.

Governments aiming to facilitate the incentives to invest in the energy storage sector should therefore carefully consider the economic and regulatory context of their respective countries, while keeping in mind that an imperfect storage market is better than none at all.

The Russian Context

The last part of the event was devoted to the green transition and the energy storage issue in Eastern Europe, with a specific focus on Russia.

Alexey Khokhlov, Head of the Electric Power Sector at the Energy Center of Moscow School of Management, SKOLKOVO, gave context to Russia’s energy storage issues and prospects. While making up for 3% of global GDP, Russia stands for 10% of the worldwide energy production, which arguably makes it one of the major actors in the global power sector (Global and Russian Energy Outlook, 2016). The country has a unified power system (UPS) interconnected by seven regional facilities constituting 880 powerplants. The system is highly centralized and covers nearly the whole country except for more remote regions in the northeast of Russia, which rely on independent energy systems. The energy production of the UPS is strongly dominated by thermal (59.27%) followed by nuclear (20.60%), hydro (19.81%), wind (0.19%), and solar energy (0.13%). The corresponding ranking in capacity is similar to that of production, except the share of hydro-storage is almost twice as high as nuclear. The percentage of solar and wind of the total energy balance is insignificant

Despite the deterring factors mentioned above, Khokhlov described how the Russian energy sector is transitioning, though at a slow pace, from the traditional centralized carbon-based system towards renewables and distributed energy resources (DER). Specifically, the production of renewables has increased 12-fold over the last five years. The government is exploring the possibilities of expanding as well as integrating already existing (originally industrial) microgrids that generate, store, and load energy, independent from the main grid. These types of small-scaled facilities typically employ a mix of energy sources, although the ones currently installed in Russia are dominated by natural gas. A primary reason for utilizing such localized systems would be for Russia to improve the energy system efficiency. Conventional power systems require extra energy to transmit power across distances. Microgrids, along with other DER’s, do not only offer better opportunities to expand the production of renewables, but their ability to operate autonomously can also help mitigate the pressure on the main grid, reducing the risk for black-outs and raising the feasibility to meet large-scale electrification in the future.

Although decarbonization does not currently seem to be on the top of Russia’s priority list, their plans to decentralize the energy sector on top of the changes in global demand for fossil fuels opens up possibilities to establish a low-carbon energy sector with storage technologies. Russia is currently exploring different technological solutions to the latter. In particular, in 2021, Russia plans to unveil a state-of-the-art solid-mass gravity storage system in Novosibirisk. Other recently commissioned solutions include photovoltaic and hybrid powerplants with integrated energy storage.


There is no doubt that decarbonization of the global energy system, and the role of energy storage, are key in mitigating climate change. However, the webinar highlighted that the challenges of implementing and investing in storage are both vast and heterogenous. Adequate regulation and, potentially, further government involvement is needed to correctly shape incentives for the market participants and get the industry going.

On behalf of the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, we would like to thank Niclas Damsgaard, Natalia Fabra, and Alexey Khokhlov for participating in this year’s Energy TalkThe material presented at the webinar can be found here.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Energy Demand Management: Insights from Behavioral Economics

20181022 Energy Demand Management Image 01

It has long been recognized that consumers fail to choose the cheapest and most efficient energy-consuming investments due to a range of market and non-market failures. This has become known as the ‘Energy Efficiency Gap’.  However, there is currently a growing interest in terms of understanding on how consumers make decisions that involve an energy consumption component, and whether the efficiency of their decisions can be improved by changing the market incentives and governmental regulation. Meeting this interest, the most recent SITE Energy Talk was devoted to Demand Side Management.  SITE invited Eleanor Denny, Associate Professor of Economics at Trinity College Dublin, and Natalya Volchkova, Assistant Professor at the New Economic School (NES) in Moscwo and Policy Director at the Center for Economic and Financial Research  (CEFIR) to discuss the Demand Side Management process. The aim of this brief is to present the principles of Demand Side Management and discuss a few implemented programs in Europe, based on the discussions  during this  SITE Energy Talk.

For the last two decades, climate change policies have mostly been focused on the energy supply side, constantly encouraging new investments in renewables. But reducing energy demand may be as effective. Indeed, Denny and O’Malley (2010) found that investing 100MW in wind power is equivalent, in terms of emissions, to a decrease in demand of 50MW. Hence, there is a clear benefit of promoting energy saving. This has been the central point of different Demand Side Management (DSM) programs that may diversely focus on building management systems, demand response programs, dynamic pricing, energy storage systems, interruptible load programs and temporary use of renewable energy. The goal of these programs is to lower energy demand or, at least, smoothen the electricity demand over the day (i.e. remove peak-hour segments of demand to off-peak hours) as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1 – Smoothing electricity demand during the day

A behavioral framework

DSM encompasses initiatives, technologies and installations that encourage energy users to optimize their consumption. However, the task does not seem easy, given the well-documented energy efficiency gap problem (e.g. Allcott & Greenstone, 2012 or Frederiks et al., 2015): consumers do not always choose the most energy efficient investments, despite potential monetary saving. One reason why might be that energy savings per se are not enough to trigger investment in energy efficient solutions or products. As Denny mentioned in her presentation, consumers will invest when the total  private benefits are higher than the costs of investment. This trade-off can be summarized by the following equation:

This equation illustrates that any DSM design should take into account both non-monetary benefits and consumers’ time preferences. The non-monetary benefits, such as improved comfort, construction and installation time, but also warm glow (i.e. positive feeling of doing something good) or social comparison, may play a major role. Moreover, the consumers’ time preferences (reflected here by the discount rate ) are also crucial in the adoption of energy efficient products. In particular, if consumers have present biased preferences, they would rather choose a product with a lower cost today and greater future cost than the reverse (i.e. higher cost today with lower future cost). Since energy-efficient products often require higher upfront investment, consumers that are impatient for immediate gains, may never choose energy efficient products.

Ultimately, it is an empirical (and context specific) question when and why DSM programs can reduce the energy efficiency gap. We describe below some DSM programs that have been implemented and discuss their impact.

Smart meters, a powerful DSM tool

A common DSM program is the installation of smart meters, which measure consumption and can automatically regulate it. The adoption of smart meters allows real-time consumption measures, unlike traditional meters that only permitted load profiling (i.e. periodic information of the customer’s electricity use).

Figure 2 – Energy Intensity in Europe

As illustrated in Figure 2, many European countries have implemented smart meter deployment programs. Interestingly, most of those countries have a relatively high level of energy efficiency (proxied by the energy intensity indicator of final energy consumption). On the contrary, in the Balkans and non-EU Eastern Europe countries, which fare poorly on the energy intensity performance scale, no smart meter rollout programs seem to be implemented.

Following the European Commission (EC) directive of 2009 (Directive 2009/72/EC), twenty-two EU members will have smart meter deployment programs for electricity and gas by 2020 (see Figure 2).  These programs are targeting end-users of energy, e.g. households that represent 29% of the current EU-28’s energy consumption, industries (36.9%) and services (29.8%) (EEA). With this rollout plan, a reduction of 9% in households’ annual energy consumption is expected.

The situation across the member states is however very different. Spain was one of the first EU countries to implement meters in 1988 for industries with demand over 5MW. All the meters will be changed at the end of 2018. 27 million euros for a 30-year investment in smart meter installations is forecasted (EC, 2013). Sweden started to implement smart meter rollout in 2003 and 5.2 million monthly-reading meters were installed by 2009. Vattenfall, one of the major utilities in Sweden, assessed their savings up to 12 euros per installed smart meter (Söderbom, 2012). Similarly in the United Kingdom, the Smart Metering Implementation Programme (SMIP) is estimated to bring an overall £7.2 billion (8.2 billion euros) net benefit over 20 years, mainly from energy saving (OFGEM, 2010). In general, smart metering has been effective, but its effectiveness may diminish over time (Carroll et al, 2014).

From smart-meter to real-time pricing

The idea of real-time pricing for electricity consumers is not new. Borenstein and Holland (2005) and Joskow and Tirole (2006) argue that this price scheme would lead to a more efficient allocation, with lower deadweight loss than under invariant pricing.

By providing detailed information about real-time consumption, smart meters enable energy producers to adopt dynamic pricing strategies. The increasing adoption of smart meters across Europe will likely increase the share of real-time-pricing consumers, as well as the efficiency gains. With the digitalization of the economy, it is likely that smart metering will grow. Indeed, Erdinc (2014) calculates that the economic impact of smart homes on in-home appliances could result in a 33% energy-bill reduction, due to differences in shift potential of appliances.

In 2004, the UK adopted a time-of-use programme called Economy 10, which provides lower tariffs during 10 hours of off-peak periods – split between night, afternoon and evening – for electrically charged and thermal storage heaters. The smart time-of-use tariffs involving daily variation in prices were only introduced in 2017.

Likewise, France’s main electricity provider EDF, implemented Tempo tariff for 350,000 residential customers and more than 100,000 small business customers. Based on a colour system to indicate whether or not the hour is a peak period, customers can automatically or manually monitor their consumption by controlling connection and disconnection of separate water and space-heating circuits. With this program, users reduced their electricity bills by 10% on average.

In Russia, the “consumptions threshold” program discussed by Natalya Volchkova, gave different prices for different consumption thresholds. But it seems that the consumers’ behaviour did not change. This might be due to the thresholds being too low, and an adjusted program should be launched in 2019.

Joskow and Tirole (2007), argue that an optimal electricity demand response program should include some rationing of price-insensitive consumers. Indeed, voluntary interruptible load programs have been launched, mainly targeting energy intensive industries that are consuming energy on a 24/7 basis. These programs consist of rewarding users financially to voluntarily be on standby. For instance, interruptible programmes in Italy apply a lump-sum compensation of 150,000 euros/MWh/year for 10 interruptions and 3000 euros/MW for each additional interruption (Torriti et al., 2010).

Nudging with energy labelling

Energy labelling has been also part of DSM. Since the EC Directives on Ecodesign and Energy Labelling (Directives 2009/125/EC and 2010/30/EU), energy-consuming products should be labelled according to their level of energy efficiency. For Ireland, Eleanor Denny has tested how labelling electrical in-home appliances may affect consumers’ decisions, like purchasing electrical appliances or buying a house. First, Denny and co-authors have nudged buyers of appliances, providing different information regarding future energy bills saving. They find that highly educated people, middle income and landlords are more likely to be concerned with energy-efficiency rates, rather than high-income people.

In another randomized control trial, Denny and co-authors manipulate information on the energy efficiency label for a housing purchase. In Ireland, landlords are charged for energy bills even when they rent out their property. The preliminary findings are that landlords informed about the annual energy cost of their houses are willing to pay 2,608 euros for a one step improvement in the letter rating – the EU label rating for buildings ranges from A to G – compared to the landlords that do not receive the information (see CONSEED project).

Similar to the European Directive, the 2009 Russian Energy efficiency law includes compulsory energy efficiency labels for some goods and improvements of the building standards (EBRD, 2011). Volchkova and co-authors run a randomized controlled experiment on the monetary incentives to buy energy efficient products. In 2016, people in the Moscow region received a voucher with randomly assigned discounts (-30%, -50% or -70%- for the purchase of LED bulbs. Vouchers were used very little, irrespective of the income. It seems that consumption habits and not so much monetary rewards were the main driver of LED bulb purchase.

How can DSM be improved?

Any demand response program requires some demand elasticity. For example, smart meters and dynamic pricing only improve electricity consumption efficiency if demand is price elastic. As Jessoe and Rapson (2014) show, one should provide detailed information (e.g. insights on non-price attributes, real-time feedback on in-home displays) to try to increase demand elasticity. Hence it seems that  the low adoption of energy efficient goods is partly due to a lack of information or biased information received by the consumers. First, it is difficult for many to translate energy savings in kWh in monetary terms. Second, many consumers focus on the short-term purchase cost and discount heavily the long run energy saving. These information inefficiencies can, in principle, be diminished by private actors and/or governmental regulation. Denny mentioned the possibility of displaying monetary benefits on labels in consumers’ decision-making in order to improve energy cost salience. For instance, in the US or Japan, the usage cost information is also displayed in monetary terms. Moreover, lifetime usage cost (i.e. cost of ownership) should also be given to the customers since it has been shown that displaying lifetime energy consumption information has significantly higher effect than presenting annual information  (Hutton & Wilkie 1980; Kaenzig 2010).

Summing up, DSM programs, including those with a behavioral framework, are an important tool for regulators, households and industries helping to meet emissions reduction targets, significantly decrease demand for energy and use energy more efficiently.


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Project links

Eleanor Denny and co-authors’ European research projects:

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.