31 January 2014

Reduce GHGs or Increase Energy Access?

At the Center for Global Development Todd Moss and Ben Leo have a provocative analysis up about an obscure but consequential decision facing the US Congress. It has to do with a little-known US government agency called the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Moss and Leo explain:
President Obama’s Power Africa initiative, launched in June 2013, aims to increase electricity generation and access to modern energy services in six low-income countries. The success or failure of this effort will be determined in large part by the investment decisions of a dozen or so US government agencies that may be operating under potentially conflicting mandates. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the main US development finance institution, will play a central role. How it selects projects will affect outcomes in Africa for the Power Africa initiative and OPIC’s activities in other low-income countries.
What is the issue here? In a nutshell it is whether OPIC will be allowed by the US Congress and Obama Administration to invest in fossil energy in low income countries. Moss and Leo explain:
There has been a general bias toward using OPIC to invest principally in solar, wind, and other low-emissions energy projects as part of the administration’s effort to promote clean energy technology. An explicit policy capping the total greenhouse gas emissions in OPIC’s overall portfolio has further pushed the organization’s investments heavily toward renewables. Indeed, over the past five years, OPIC has invested in more than 40 new energy projects and all but two (in Jordan and Togo) are in renewables. 
The graph at the top of this post illustrates the trade-offs here. they are stark and consequential. The CGD analysis shows that a $10 billion OPIC portfolio focused on 100% off-grid renewables would provide energy access to 70 million less people than if that portfolio was 100% natural gas. The graph shows how a mix of renewables and gas translates into energy access.

There are three positions one might take with respect to the GHG vs. energy access tradeoffs involve with OPIC decision making.

1. Preventing GHG emissions is more important than securing energy access for poor people.
2. Securing energy access for poor people is more important than preventing GHG emissions.
3. The trade-off is an illusion as both goals can be achieved at the same time.

The first 2 positions are legitimate and defensible. The third is not, however it is a convenient refuge for those who wish to avoid the uncomfortable nature of the tradeoff.

Here is an additional bit of context. The US consumes a massive amount of natural gas. It is not even worth comparing US consumption to that of the six poor countries of Power Africa. However, here is an interesting bit of trivia: The amount of natural gas flared in the US (that is, wasted), is equal to the total combined consumption of Yemen, Tanzania, Ghana, Angola, Mozambique, Kyrgyzstan, Cameroon, Afghanistan, New Guinea, Gabon and Senegal (sources: here and here).

A debate over OPIC is one worth having: Should US greenhouse gas policy extend to trading off energy access for preventing emissions?

It is a simple choice, and one with enormous consequences. And make no mistake, a choice will be made.

As I wrote in The Climate Fix, the only way to turn this trade-off into a win-win situation is via a long-term commitment to energy innovation that makes clean energy cheaper. Meantime, in the near term it is simply immoral to ask the poor to make energy access sacrifices while we consume massive amounts of energy, based almost entirely on fossil fuels. Climate policy should not be used to keep poor people poor.

I'd love to hear the counter argument. Any takers?

57 comments:

  1. " in the near term it is simply immoral to ask the poor to make energy access sacrifices while we consume massive amounts of energy, based almost entirely on fossil fuels. Climate policy should not be used to keep poor people poor"

    Presumably these "poor people" will be living in isolated communities
    Presumably these poor households will not have funds to purchase cookers,fridges,computers, televisions, kettles,
    Presumably being isolated there will be little industry to take advantage of the electricity - you will need to improve transport first.

    Who pays for the grid to keep a 100Mw powerstation running near water whilst feeding isolated communities perhaps hundreds of miles away.
    Who pays for the transport and possibly import of fuel for these stations.
    Who pays for the security to check the power lines?

    Just how are the people going to pay for appliances to connect to the grid?
    just how are the people going to pay for the energy consumed.?

    Heating of homes does not require electricity but would be better done with local heat stores.

    One useful item would be lights but these can be powered locally from solar + battery I use 20 watts to brightly light my house usuing relatively cheap LEDs. But someone still has to pay for the lights battery and solar cells even if you have disposed of the very costly power lines from generator to consumer.

    Give the poor a lead acid battery, a 300W solar panel (perhaps $500) and they will be able to light their village, pump water, UV purify water, charge laptops(!) for perhaps 10 years, How much would a coal/gas station + wires + fuel cost over the same period (UK price is £0.05 CCGT Fuel only per kWh - uk DE Electricity Generation Costs 2013 - assuming solar as described give 3kWh/day then CCGT at fuel cost only would exceed the solar price in approx 4 years)

    Please tell me exactly whom is going to pay for the power stations, the grid, the appliances, the roads, the security, the industry?

    Please be very specific how the "cheap" electricity will help the poor and how you would fund its introduction.

    The west has grown up with electricity and so has the infrastructure, the factories, the communications. to start from scratch is a whole new ball game.

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  2. The drivers are renewable. The technology is not. The disruption (e.g. pollution) of the environment is mostly shifted to another location. Green energy is an oxymoron. Not only are low-density energy technologies not "green", but they are highly disruptive of the local environment.

    Oh, well. Everyone has their favored regimes, technology, etc. It's not their labor or capital. The next administration will favor their interests. Perhaps even something that will help Americans and our immediate neighbors. Perhaps it will even address violation of the basic human right.

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  3. So with natural gas, 90 million will get electricity access (100 kwh/year ??).With only renewables, 20 million.

    I have criticized German Energiewende on the basis that it cannot be replicated in poor countries and as such is of limited value.

    My view: Use gas as a bridge fuel, play time. Without electricity access, exit from poverty is impossible.

    PS. I think Lenin back in 1920 was definitely onto something here:

    "...the organization of industry on the basis of modern, advanced technology, on electrification which will provide a link between town and country, will put an end to the division between town and country, will make it possible to raise the level of culture in the countryside and to overcome, even in the most remote corners of land, backwardness, ignorance, poverty, disease, and barbarism."

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  4. Why does no one answer my questions! The anti-green movement continually saying how green generation which they assume is more expensive than fossil generation will harm the poor. You must have very definite views on who the "poor" are and how they can utilise cheap electricity to improve their lot when they can pay for none of the life improving products.

    You must also have plans on secure distribution of the energy, where cooling/steam generating water comes from when the rivers run dry.

    Please, a response is really desired, for I just do not see how low cost electricity can be so important to the real poor.

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  5. ' I just do not see how low cost electricity can be so important to the real poor.' - thefordprefect.

    You go and tell them it isn't important. Let us know.

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  6. roddy
    you tell me how the poor can use cheap electricity.
    what will it power?
    How do you get your cheap electricity from source to user. Who pays for the interconnectivity?

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  7. -6-thefordperfect

    History provides answers to your question:
    http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2013/02/how-fast-does-energy-access-occur.html

    Thanks

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  8. @thefordprefect

    Many people in developing countries do not live "in isolated communities" far from energy infrastructure. Many would benefit from cheaper and more reliable electricity for a multitude of reasons, such as keeping hospitals running and allowing businesses to flourish, apart from the personal convenience of having reliable lighting, phone chargers and water pumps etc. at home.

    See e.g. this World Bank factsheet

    "High costs - Power tariffs in most parts of the developing world fall in the range of US$0.04 to US$0.08 per kilowatt-hour. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the average tariff is US$0.13 per kilowatt-hour. In countries dependent on diesel-based systems, tariffs are higher still. Given poor reliability, many firms operate their own diesel generators at two to three times the cost with attendant environmental costs."

    Not sure how my 'comment as' will appear, but this from me,
    Ruth Dixon

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  9. A major societal investment in methane as a "bridge fuel" could mean more than just burning fossil fuel that produces less CO2/joule. With the proper R&D, properly timed, our global culture could progress to the point that it's dragging the CO2 back out of the air, then ultimately sequestering it. The key, IMO, is using biotech to react hydrogen from solar PV/electrolysis with CO2 from the atmosphere/ocean surface to create methane.

    http://artksthoughts.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-methane-game.html

    As I currently envision it, methane would develop thus:

    SOURCES:

    Standard and fracking wells

    Sea-floor methane hydrate

    Bio-methane from solar PV

    At some point, continued growth (and reducing price) of such bio-methane would support sequestering a fraction, starting with a little and growing to a large fraction at some point. This, in turn, could allow fossil carbon we've been dumping into the environment to be pulled back out again and returned to a fossil condition.

    Certainly the energy efficiency of converting electricity from solar power to methane via electrolytic hydrogen and bio-conversion would be lower than storing hydrogen and recovering energy via fuel cells. But the technology for transporting, storing, and generating energy from methane is effectively mature, and most of the barriers to lower costs have been well-analyzed and can be addressed with standard engineering.

    Only the actual bio-tech development and appropriate membrane technology (for filtering carbonate from sea-water without passing oxygen) would need to be developed, AFAIK. (I would appreciate somebody pointing out any problems I've missed.)

    Solar PV appears to be undergoing exponential cost reductions, so continued R&D pressure here would likely be all that's needed for costs to drop to the point that the investment issues would be economic efficiency rather than energy efficiency.

    As hydrogen technology becomes sufficiently mature, or other energy storage/transport technology superior to methane is developed, the capacity for creating methane from hydrogen and atmospheric CO2 can be redirected to sequestration. This probably (IMO) represents a long-enough time-frame that several full rounds of investment in methane technology can be fully amortized.

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  10. Ford,

    Ok, I will answer your questions - I hope you can tolerate the answers.

    Q1] "Please tell me exactly whom is going to pay for the power stations, the grid, the appliances, the roads, the security, the industry?"

    The Short Answer: the poor people themselves as economic activity resulting from the reliable availability of inexpensive electricity in sufficient quantity to power wealth generating industry and ancillary economic activity becomes available to them. If this cannot be made to work nothing else will. To quote Willis Eschenbach on the subject of rural development, "If it doesn't pay, it doesn't stay," - period.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/09/28/the-powerhouse-school-concept/

    This is why bringing the cheapest electricity to the most people possible FIRST is the driving imperative. The industry and economic development necessary to pay for everything MUST follow along with the electricity pretty hand in glove or the scheme WILL fail.

    Giving the rural poor an absolute minimum of semi-reliable electricity WILL NOT WORK. If the electricity is too expensive, it will not be harnessed to create the wealth necessary to pay for everything. There is modern technology available that is pretty clean, clean enough, to bootstrap these economies into development. Natural gas comes to mind.

    There is LOTS of capital in the world available to be invested, it is always looking for places to be put to work, but only in situations where it can be paid back. It HAS to be paid back or the system or the system stops being able to generate the capital necessary for development - period.

    Q2] Please be very specific how the "cheap" electricity will help the poor and how you would fund its introduction."

    The short Answer: Absent availability of enough electricity, available upon need, at a cost low enough to afford, poor people will be unable to harness that energy to raise themselves up out of poverty. It is a fallacy of the cruelest kind to think that people can be raised up out poverty from above, this has never occurred in human history. And it won't work for you just because you are in charge.

    Of course, THIS WILL ONLY WORK if at the same time the people in developing countries are trained, encouraged to favor the types of positive-sum social and economic transactions that allow a society make the transformation from a "closed access order" ["natural state"] to an "open access order" ["modern state"], in other words societies that favor the value of MAKE NOT TAKE, even as our and other western societies did two to three hundred years ago.

    See this for the concept: The Natural State: The Political Economy of Non-Development; Douglass C. North, John Joseph Wallis and Barry R. Weingast. Find the .pdf here: http://www.international.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=22899

    To merely, "Give the poor a lead acid battery, a 300W solar panel..." will do absolutely nothing to change the basic circumstances of their poverty - except they will be able to see their poverty at night. Imagine if your little solar system cost you the equivalent of your village's entire GDP - what would you be using for lighting then?

    W^3

    Some more of my thoughts on the subject of rural electrification:
    http://thecoralinememe.net/2013/10/01/fisked-by-willis-further-comments-on-the-powerhouse-school-and/
    http://thecoralinememe.net/2013/09/29/powerhouse-school-project-willis-eschenbach-the-unintended-consequences-of-what-actually-works/

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  11. rpielke 7

    So you suggest that low cost electricity has created wealth?

    Are you sure it is not low cost labour that the poor provides that makes profits for others that requires more energy?

    A poor peasant who
    cannot afford food
    that has been displaced from his land by wealthy so cannot grow crops
    that cannot afford hospital treatment
    that cannot afford clean drinking water
    that have just had a harvest destroyed by hurricane/flood
    that cannot afford new seed to restart

    Is he going to praise the west for providing electricity at $0.04/kWh
    he cannot survive on electricity alone.
    He will not want to allow 1 to 2 litres/kWh of water be wasted to generate power

    you still have not stated simply what the poor will want with cheap electricity.


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  12. How can you have a comprehensive discussion of these issues without considering the trade-offs between positive and negative externalities?

    For example, what sense does it make to look at differential projections of access in energy w/o also considering projections on issues such as harmful health impact from increased use of coal? Or w/o considering issues such as the geo-political outcomes (and costs) of further enriching despotic rulers in countries that produce oil even as they deny basic civil rights to 1/2 their population?

    Sure, those projections of access are absolutely important to consider, but they are not meaningful if they are considered in isolation from important aspects of the larger context. That is, unless you think that confirming biases is important.

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  13. thefordprefect - #1 & #4 -

    Keep asking those questions - but don't expect answers. There is a reason why answers either aren't offered or are offered disingenuously.

    Instead of answers, you will get accused of being indifferent to poverty and millions of starving children.

    But it's a long game. Keep your eye on the prize. Keep asking the questions.

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  14. Roger,

    You left out the fourth and probably most important position.

    4. Directing the bulk of the funding to a key Democrat constituency. In other words, what would make Tom Steyer happy.

    Political decisions made by political bodies are made using political criteria.

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  15. Presumably these "poor people" will be living in isolated communities
    Presumably these poor households will not have funds to purchase cookers,fridges,computers, televisions, kettles,
    Presumably being isolated there will be little industry to take advantage of the electricity - you will need to improve transport first.


    Three presumptions, all wrong.

    Nairobi has a population of 3 million. Dacca an astounding 14 million! And those are just the first two I thought of. Even 30% of India is urban, and not all those in villages would be isolated. Over half of all Nigerians are urban. The idea that all the third world lives in isolated rural communities is ridiculous.

    The key to making those cities livable is sanitation and electricity.

    Electricity means refrigerators, which means less disease and less food wastage. Fridges save people money -- what sort of moron would deliberately go without a fridge when they could have one? Who would boil water over a few twigs when they can have an electric kettle? (A leading cause of illness among the truly poor is via smoke inhalation as a result of no better way of cooking.)

    Do you seriously suggest we should deliberately make those millions have to go without proper safe food preparation techniques? What sort of human would suggest that?

    Even having a lightbulb can make a huge difference. The kids can read or study at night. The parents can work when it is dark (or can work longer during the day because they can do the housework at night).

    The cost of the light bulb is soon recovered from the extra work it allows. The cost of a fridge is trivial when you get the savings from keeping food for more than a couple of days.

    The key to making the poor countries rich is getting them away from subsistence farming and into industrial cities. You know, like the West did. Making them live in isolated communities is not a solution to anything. Giving them a decent life in the cities is, and will allow those that stay on the land to farm it properly into the bargain.

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  16. thefordprefect said...

    "Why does no one answer my questions! ... You must have very definite views on who the "poor" are and how they can utilise cheap electricity to improve their lot when they can pay for none of the life improving products."

    I think you are getting some answers. Roger's is very interesting: Thailand went from 25% access to 95% in less than 12 years! What they did right is worth some study. I'll bet it was not using solar power to provide not much more than lighting.
    Probably more like using fossil fuel to power factories that provide jobs. Then the people are no longer poor. They can send money back to their villages and then nearly all can afford refrigerators and computers.

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  17. I agree with this post and believe that counter arguments are weak.

    As posed in 1. by thefordprefect an alternative would be to give the poor in isolated communities renewable power and for those who live there and who will only to continue to live a subsistence farming existence I agree that might be a viable option.

    But what if you want to build a hospital or a manufacturing plant or make steel? Today's medical infrastructure, industry, and resource development need constant power. If you do the energy math, the infrastructure necessary for renewable power to provide those requirements, then the cost is not all that much different than the current fossil-fueled energy model simply because renewable wind and solar power is diffuse and intermittent. To provide constant power necessary to move beyond an agrarian society renewable power must include storage and backup sources of power.

    In my opinion the only change I would make to Roger's post is in the penultimate paragraph: "Climate policy should not be used to keep poor people poor" to "Climate policy should not be used to limit options for poor societies by limiting the amount and type of power available".

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  18. "Why does no one answer my questions! ....I just do not see how low cost electricity can be so important to the real poor."

    I guess everybody assumed you are a troll and not to be taken seriously for asking really dumb questions á la Marie Antoinette?

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  19. thefordprefect, Joshua,

    Thank you both for some remarkably funny comments.

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  20. If theforperfect was wrong in making an assumption that all of "the poor" will be living in isolated communities, there are still valid aspects of his questions that remain unanswered.


    More than 70% of Africa's poor, for example, live in rural areas. A large proportion of India's poor live in rural communities. If I'm not mistaken, the trend is towards greater urbanization (at more than 50% now?), but still...

    Simply contrasting fossil fuels and renewables, and saying that those favoring more renewable "want children to starve" will not solve the myriad reasons why the poor lack access to energy. Simply claiming that "cheap energy" is what resolves poverty is empty rhetoric.

    http://www.amazon.com/Development-as-Freedom-Amartya-Sen/dp/0385720270

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  21. It's a toss-up between Joshua and Prefect as to who is wriggling hardest to maintain the position that access to cheap energy doesn't help the poor. All very odd, bizarrely isolated.

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  22. Now, Joshua, you are usually critical of people who say things like that. I don't think you could find anyone on any side of this debate who has said that others "want children to starve".

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  23. https://medium.com/sustainable-development/fdaa5104d81d

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  24. Mike -

    Actually, I see it quite often, on both sides of the debate. I think it is no more plausible coming from "realists" than coming from "skeptics."

    From this thread:

    ===]]] Do you seriously suggest we should deliberately make those millions have to go without proper safe food preparation techniques? What sort of human would suggest that? [[[===

    IMO, a problem in these discussions, within and without the blogosphere, but particularly within, is that people try to reverse engineer from Person X's position in extremely complex issues to making determinations about Person X's morality, motivations, and/or intent - and perhaps even worse, through then assigning guilt by association, the morality, motivations, and/or intent of any millions of people who may agree with Person X in any particular facet of their argument.

    It is fallactious reasoning, and not skeptical.

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  25. And speaking of fallacious arguments:

    ==]] It's a toss-up between Joshua and Prefect as to who is wriggling hardest to maintain the position that access to cheap energy doesn't help the poor. [[==

    Read what I wrote once again, and see if you can figure out why you are arguing against a straw man of your own creation - not anything that I said.

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  26. Joshua -- I agree, it is fallacious reasoning, and you should not have indulged in it in #20.

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  27. The problem, as I see it, that Ford and Joshua have is that they are laboring under the d'illusion that the injustice, exploitation, and oppression they complain so eloquently about are *economic* problems. As I stated in my comment above they are: ethical, moral, and spiritual problems, those problems CANNOT be solved with economic solutions [directly anyway], those problems are solved as the bulk of people in a society start to value the type of positive-sum social and economic interactions that most of us in the West now take for granted - and actually act that way.

    In fact in the West we now take this situation so for granted that we are often quite blind to the fact that we may be dealing with a person or society that does not share those values, a situation Prof. Richard Landes of BU terms: cognitive egocentrism.

    http://www.theaugeanstables.com/reflections-from-second-draft/cognitive-egocentrism/

    Yes, it IS a "long game", it IS important to "keep the eye on the prize", but it is also important to keep the problems and their solutions in their proper domains.

    It is important not to THINK with your ideology.

    W^3

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  28. Mike -

    I didn't mean to make any such implication. Allow me to explain:

    ==]] Simply claiming that "cheap energy" is what resolves poverty is empty rhetoric. [[==

    Perhaps a straw man, I will acknowledge that - but not an implication that the empty rhetoric is motivated by a desire to see children starve, or to an indifferent to them starving. My assumption is that pretty much everyone here has the same goal - the most good distributed the most equitably to the most people. Of course, "good" and "equity" can be subjective - but I don't think that anyone here think starving children is either good or equitable.

    More to the point, and perhaps w/o a straw man, I think that thefordperfect makes some valid points, even if his comment left an impression that he thinks that all poverty is in rural communties (an impression I would assume does not jibe with his actual beliefs). I found the responses to the valid points lacking; for example, responding as if he felt that all poverty is rural and failing to address the question of how best to address the needs of the very real problems of the rural poor. Or, for example, simply pointing to Thailand w/o considering how geographical, cultural, and other differences might affect infrastructure development and a centralized approach to energy distribution differently in places like Africa or India than what played out in Thailand.

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  29. ==]] The problem, as I see it, that Ford and Joshua have is that they are laboring under the d'illusion that the injustice, exploitation, and oppression they complain so eloquently about are *economic* problems. [[==

    Have you read the book that I linked, or a synopsis of Sen's thesis? If you had, you would see that it seems you are laboring under a misunderstanding of my perspective.

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  30. Johsua,

    I'll check out your links if you'll check out mine at comments no.10 & 27? Fair?

    W^3

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  31. Here is some common sense from the UN, the first I have read regarding energy access, equality and mitigating GHG's: http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/the-challenge-of-deep-decarbonisation-1.1280798?goback=%2Egde_3134770_member_5832171696173387780#%21

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  32. Ford Prefect did not make valid points, because one of the features of industrialisation is that it is self-driving. Once it gets rolling it works with incredible speed.

    In 1955 Korea was a ruined country. Battered by wars, and badly behind in every economic sense. But once they got going, things paid for themselves.

    If Nigeria, for example, was to set up a grid that electrified all the urban poor reliably, then the costs to extend that to the other 50% would not be so bad. There's no country that got to 50% electrification and then stopped, because the system is self-paying at that point.

    As W.W.Wygart says, the problem is not economic. Otherwise Korea, Taiwan etc would not have gone from poor to rich in two generations. It is political, and specifically the problems of corruption and resistance to new methods.

    Joshua thinks, very sweetly, that no-one wants the poor to be poor. He's wrong though. Lots of people actively protest against industrialisation of the Third World. There's no shortage either of people saying that we shouldn't encourage them to want things (i.e. be rich) but should seek some new way of living that makes them happy to be without (i.e. poor).

    There's not many people who are prepared to say that "yes, I support world poverty" as an open statement. But they support it nevertheless, hiding it under flowerly statements about opposing modern society's lust for material possessions.

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  33. w.w. wygart -

    At the point where you find me mischaracterizing your viewpoint, if you want to steer me to a link to help clarify your viewpoint, I will be happy to read it. In the meantime, I don't see how linking to a book written by Sen's theories about economics is some sort of parallel to linking to a blog post from Willis about economics.

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  34. ==]] Ford Prefect did not make valid points, because one of the features of industrialisation is that it is self-driving. Once it gets rolling it works with incredible speed. [[==

    --snip--

    A false dilemma (also called false dichotomy, black-and/or-white thinking, the either-or fallacy, the fallacy of false choice, the fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses, the fallacy of the false alternative or the fallacy of the excluded middle) is a type of informal fallacy that involves a situation in which limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option

    --snip--

    Industrialization works at various speeds in various places for a variety of reasons.

    For example, in South Korea, it worked quickly, for among other reasons very specific to the culture and relevant geo-political factors - because of a largely corrupt centralized government creating largely government controlled conglomerates that did not work through very much of a "free market" paradigm.

    Nigeria, given that it is such an energy-rich state - is another particularly ironic example w/r/t the complicated nature of the relationship between access to energy and economic growth.

    ==]] As W.W.Wygart says, the problem is not economic. Otherwise Korea, Taiwan etc would not have gone from poor to rich in two generations. It is political, and specifically the problems of corruption and resistance to new methods. [[==

    Again, a rather uselessly simplistic statement - but I will ask you also, have you read Sen or even a synopsis of his argument? If so, then why would you think that saying that "the problem is not economic" would, somehow, conflict with my perspective?

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  35. Joshua,

    Reciprocity my dear friend. I provide those links so you can understand where I'm coming from. If you feel that I have misunderstood you position that is something I take very seriously and am willing to put the time into correcting it. How about you?

    At this point I've taken up about as much of Roger's blog space as I would like. If you are willing we can shift over to my blog [or yours if you have one]. Send whatever you have to say to me to wwwygart at gmail, and I'll post it up and we can roll from there.

    In the mean time I'll check out Sen.

    W^3

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  36. w.w. wygart -

    Again, I don't think that I'm confused as to your argument. You mischarcterized mine, so I offered you a link to help clarify the root of your mistake. If you encounter some aspect of your argument that I've mischaracterized, please do provide a link if you think it will help me to understand your perspective better.

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  37. Joshua -

    For crying out loud, you just can't keep saying "I have read Development as Freedom" and have it function as some sort of all-purpose excuse for not understanding basic concepts and having common sense. Yes, economic development depends on many societal factors being present. These are necessary but not sufficient. For an advanced society to develop it requires energy, and if the energy costs more than food and housing the development ain't gonna happen. End of discussion.

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  38. Tom -

    ==]] For crying out loud, you just can't keep saying "I have read Development as Freedom" and have it function as some sort of all-purpose excuse for not understanding basic concepts and having common sense. [[==

    You make an excellent point, as usual. What fool I am to think that merely saying that someone should read Sen should serve as a cover for my lack of understanding of basic concepts and my lack of any common sense.

    If only I had your depth of knowledge and wisdom, I would have realized before you pointed that out to me.

    Over, and over, and over again.

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  39. Oh, and Tom -

    Thanks for informing me as to when the discussion has ended.

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  40. Joshua -

    Yes, over and over again. Every time someone cites the rather well-established observation that development depends on low cost energy, you respond with "read Sen, development depends on other things also". But this is a specious response. They did not say that low cost energy can make development occur in the face of corruption, lack of education, etc. They said that if these other things are in place, then low cost energy is needed to ignite development.

    Maybe you are not ignorant or lack common sense. Maybe you purposely misconstrue and twist this point, which is much worse since it reflects on your honesty.

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  41. Tom, this is Joshua's M.O.. He loses the core part of an argument, but he distracts others from this by arguing about quibbles.

    He knows, because he is not stupid, that Sen is merely a distraction from the argument that energy fuels economic growth, which raises people out of poverty. We've seen it in dozens of countries. We have yet to ever see a country raise itself out of poverty while maintaining any other economic system.

    What Sen says is irrelevant to what he want to achieve. (He could cite any number of authorities that say access to energy is a prime requirement for raising a country's wealth.)

    In my case he attempted to derail discussion by a completely and utterly irrelevant philosophical discussion about false dilemma. As if there was any dilemma about giving people electrification.

    Don't bite. He's an expert at derailing discussion from the points he doesn't like. Especially when he is losing.

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  42. Joshua,

    I'll see if I can reply to your complaints in such a way that I can steer the conversation back towards the topic of green energy policy in the developing world.

    First I will agree with Tom C that merely to drop the name Amartya Sen into the conversation, and a link to his book, does not necessarily absolve you of the responsibility to briefly summarize for the rest of us who may not have previously been familiar with Sen, how his ideas apply to the current discussion and your opinions. That seemed to me to be a bit disingenuous, or maybe just a bit lazy.

    Being interested in brevity for all, I might be somewhat guilty of this as well, it's a lot easier to drop in a link than summarize a paper or a career. Mea culpa.

    I may also may owe you an apology for having mentioned you at all in my comment No.27 above, my original intellectual disagreement was with with TheFord [who seems to have left the scene] I only invoked you because you chose to link yourself to his cause in comment No.13 where you said:

    "Keep asking those questions - but don't expect answers. There is a reason why answers either aren't offered or are offered disingenuously.”

    I thought TheFord himself was being particularly disingenuous with his complaint, "Why won't anyone answer my questions?". This was an attempt of a hold against everyone else's freedom to *ignoring* him. So, I answered him, but only because he 'asked for it' - in the less civil sense of the word.

    In retrospect I've been spending a lot of time replying to you rather than bringing Ford to task, not what I set out to do. Mea culpa.

    W^3

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  43. Joshua,

    Having spent a couple of hours so far with some of Sen's ideas, it seems that you may really not have understood my position about the necessity of inexpensive and readily available electrical power to the poor of the developing world. After a first pass with a deep subject, I would say that I am actually very much in alignment with some of Sen's thinking, possibly with yours as well.

    Here's why:

    The necessity of affordable and available electrical power in my mind seems to be an example of the concept of "positive freedom" espoused by Sen. The availability of affordable and clean energy is a requisite for almost all other activity that would enable the poor of the developing world to lift themselves out of poverty. I think this is what Sen meant by a "capabilities approach."

    Without affordable, reliable energy, economies aren't "capable" of much.

    Economies do follow the laws of thermodynamics. To lift people out of poverty means to elevate their lives to a higher state of order, reduce entropy, this *requires* an input of energy. If energy is unavailable or is too costly, development cannot happen, people will stay at the level of entropy their energy budget allows. The thermodynamic cost of development 'here' is an increase in entropy somewhere else - the real conundrum for 'green' thinking.

    However, if a group of people is so unable to keep hide and hair together, as per Ford's example in No.11, then they may really need some extraordinary outside help, to get them into the position where they can start to be capable themselves of providing for their own needs.

    The so called "Kerala Model" seems to be a case in point. On the surface of it you have a once poverty stricken and undeveloped area of India that is able thought a number of outside inputs, and internal efforts, that is able to achieve remarkable progress in:

    1] "A set of high material quality-of-life indicators coinciding with low per-capita incomes, both distributed across nearly the entire population of Kerala."
    2] "A set of wealth and resource redistribution programs that have largely brought about the high material quality-of-life indicators."
    3] "High levels of political participation and activism among ordinary people along with substantial numbers of dedicated leaders at all levels. Kerala's mass activism and committed cadre were able to function within a largely democratic structure, which their activism has served to reinforce."

    Except that at the end of the day the economy seems to be unable to sustain a level of employment sufficient to keep the young, satified, educated Keralians at home and instead they are forced to move to other parts of India or the world where they settle down and hopefully send some money home - at least for now.

    "Kerala has around 2,700 government medical institutions in the state, with 330 beds per 100,000 population, the highest in the country," according to the Wiki. Who is actually paying for all of this and where is all of the electricity to power it coming from? Is this real in other words, or are there hidden subsidies, like all of the remittances from outside economies?

    In the Publishers Weekly review of his book where they said of Sen, "he was praised by the Nobel Committee for bringing an 'ethical dimension' to a field recently dominated by technical specialists." This seems to agree with my argument that the technical aspects of a political or economic theory are insufficient to compensate for the moral, ethical, and spiritual flaws of the operators of that system. If people insist on acting like jerks no system will work humanely - but the system must first be capable of producing enough good decisions, economic and political, that it is actually capable of producing enough wealth to satisfy people's material needs. Not all systems seem to be equal in being able to accomplish this.

    W^3

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  44. Joshua,

    Here I'll try to pull things back on course with this blog article:

    It seems to me that so called 'green' energy policy is in-fact producing exactly the type of *unnecessary* 'energy famine' that Sen complained about in the Bengal famine of 1943. The great famine of Ireland in the 19th century is another example. Lack wasn't the problem, policy, distribution were, and ethics determine policy and distribution.

    Sen himself seemed to suggest that, according to the Wiki, "A vigorous defender of political freedom, Sen believed that famines do not occur in functioning democracies because their leaders must be more responsive to the demands of the citizens." In other words functioning democracies don't let their neighbors starve, but in Bengal they did [and also in 19th century Ireland, Salinist USSR, and many other places].

    This is where I get to my point about the necessity of positive-sum economics and the modern state.

    For example, today the poor people of the north African Islamic world: poor, illiterate, and under developed, are in very much the same predicament Sen saw of the rural landless laborers and urban service providers like hair-cutters in Bengal in 1943, that is being priced out of a world grain market by a recently more affluent Asian peoples and victim of price shocks produced by American political decisions to mandate more ethanol in US motor fuel. So who's being cruel here?

    Maybe you could explain to me if I'm misinterpreting Sen, I'm new to the subject.

    Thanks for introducing me to Sen, it's been fruitful.

    W^3

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  45. w.w. wygart -

    Thanks for the respectful response. Just for a bit of housekeeping.

    You said the following:

    ==]] The problem, as I see it, that Ford and Joshua have is that they are laboring under the d'illusion that the injustice, exploitation, and oppression they complain so eloquently about are *economic* problems. ,[[==

    Now first of all, nothing that I said supports such a characterization of my views. You were projecting some preconception - most likely from assumptions that you make about people of my political persuasion - onto what I said. Second, you said that *after* I had posted a link to Sen. Just a cursory look at that link would have made it obvious that your characterization of my views was incorrect. I see no particular reason to go down some rabbit hole to chase someone who projects views onto me that I don't have, particularly if I have given them easy access to information that makes their error obvious.

    That is why I asked you if you had read even a synopsis of Sen's work - because if you had done so and still made such a gross mischaracterization of my views, then it seemed that you'd be pretty unreceptive to a good faith exchange with anything I might say. Look at Tom C - who has determined that I am unable to understand basic concepts and have no common sense. For all I knew, you might react to me in the same way. Asking if you had read the link was a sort of shortcut to see if I'd be wasting my time like I do when I try to exchange views with Tom C.

    So - I think that addresses the following point:


    ==]] First I will agree with Tom C that merely to drop the name Amartya Sen into the conversation, and a link to his book, does not necessarily absolve you of the responsibility to briefly summarize for the rest of us who may not have previously been familiar with Sen, how his ideas apply to the current discussion and your opinions. That seemed to me to be a bit disingenuous, or maybe just a bit lazy. [[==

    I hope that you can see that I didn't just "merely drop the name of Sen..... to absolve me of the responsibility" for anything.

    Now later you say this:

    ==]] After a first pass with a deep subject, I would say that I am actually very much in alignment with some of Sen's thinking, possibly with yours as well. [[==

    Right. Exactly. My point in asking if you had read even a synopsis of Sen's work was that if you did so with an open mind, you would realize exactly that point.

    Ok. so now that we have that out of the way, and better yet, having established that we have at least something of a common ground for exchanging views, I will go back and read your more detailed comments in more detail and see about responding in some detail to what you said - perhaps via email. The problem is that from a very brief look, it seems that your comments are in-depth enough that it would require a significant commitment of time, and I'm not sure if I'll feel motivated to make that commitment. Making snarky comments on a blog doesn't require that much effort. :-)

    Again, thanks for the *more* respectful exchange - although it wouldn't hurt if you further acknowledged how far wide of the mark Tom C's comment was, and how you were off base by repeating it.

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  46. w.w. wygart -

    Actually, in looking a bit more at what you wrote, I don't think that much of a detailed response is needed because I agree with most of it:

    ==]] The necessity of affordable and available electrical power in my mind seems to be an example of the concept of "positive freedom" espoused by Sen. [[==

    I agree. And not to belabor the point, but that is why I linked to Sen. My point of focus vis a vis this blog post (and more so, the posts in the comments thread) is that accessible and cheap energy is *an example* of a positive freedom that exists in a network of other positive freedoms that are all, also, crucial. It is a particularly important one, no doubt, but it does not stand in isolation. My point is that I often read arguments in the climate blogosphere that amount to "Renewables equal starving children because cheap energy equals economic success, and so people who support renewables are actually arguing that they want children to starve." Look above at Mark's 5:37 post.

    Of course access to cheap energy is important, but favoring renewables - which can take many forms such as revenue neutral subsidies generated from progressively staged taxes on carbon - does not in and of itself = starving children, differentially.

    There are a variety of reasons why children starve, and simply a lack of support for renewables will not, in and of itself, come anywhere near addressing many of those factors (as an aside - particularly ironic since many who make simplistic arguments about access to cheap energy regularly argue against the concept of centralizing power in governments - something that would likely be needed to give greater access for many of the poor to the energy they need).

    That is why I think that Roger's graph is meaningful evidence, but needs much more contextualization - and that is what I felt that "thefordperfect" was advocating for and for which he got no responses that addressed the legitimate points he was making..

    One more point:

    ==]] Economies do follow the laws of thermodynamics. To lift people out of poverty means to elevate their lives to a higher state of order, reduce entropy, this *requires* an input of energy. If energy is unavailable or is too costly, development cannot happen, people will stay at the level of entropy their energy budget allows. The thermodynamic cost of development 'here' is an increase in entropy somewhere else - the real conundrum for 'green' thinking. [[==

    I assume that you are speaking there in literal terms, not figurative terms - but I think of the situation as being more complicated and thus, a bit more figurative. As an example, there is the concept of "human capital." Now human capital is a very powerful resource, and in my opinion a very important form of "energy" w/r/t development and poverty alleviation. Access to available energy is not provided by a lack of support for renewables but by a variety of factors, and human capital is a very important mediator for the transition between energy resources and the availability of those resources in ways that work in peoples lives and in ways that they can afford it. Take Nigeria as an example of the kind of dynamic I am pointing to there.

    I am not arguing that expensive energy is a deterrent for economic growth. I am not arguing that people should be deprived of access to cheap energy. I am not arguing that efforts should not be made to provide poor people with access to cheap energy. I am arguing against simplistic arguments about energy that are made, largely, to advance a partisan agenda in the climate wars.

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  47. Sorry - that should read: "I am not arguing that expensive energy is *not* a deterrent or economic growth."

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  48. Joshua.

    I think I copped to most of your complaints in No.46, back in my reply No.43 where I said:

    "I may also may owe you an apology for having mentioned you at all in my comment No.27 above. My original intellectual disagreement was with with TheFord [who seems to have left the scene] I only invoked your name because you chose to link yourself to his cause in comment No.13 where you said:

    "Keep asking those questions - but don't expect answers. There is a reason why answers either aren't offered or are offered disingenuously.”

    No.13 seemed unfriendly enough, it was a put down; that statement read to me like a rather disingenuous attempt to frame any disagreement with Ford or any reluctance merely to get involved with Ford as "disingenuous", kind of a zero-sum proposition.

    So, if I wasn't clear enough before, mea culpa, forget I ever mentioned you in No.27.

    In No.29 you wrote, "Have you read the book that I linked, or a synopsis of Sen's thesis? If you had, you would see that it seems you are laboring under a misunderstanding of my perspective."

    Your views may be fully informed by Sen, but unless you are a little more specific than a link to a book at Amazon dot com, you aren't going to be understood and nobody is going to learn anything from you. That's what I meant by "dropping Sen's name."

    To me, that attitude is rhetorically weak, its weak when I do it, and its weak when you do it. What I, and several others here it seems, expect is some type of fair summary of Sen's theses that apply to what you believe - set us straight, just don't pass the buck. I learned quite a bit about Amartya Sen today, but not from you. Was that what you wanted? You probably know quite a few things about Sen that I wasn't able to find out in a couple of hours, but you weren't willing to teach me.

    I'll wager - say a copy of one of Sen's books - that other readers on this thread learned more about the philosophy of Amartya Sen from me today than from you. Is that what you really wanted?

    As far as the thermodynamics of economics was concerned I was being both literal, the conversion of joules into watts, and figurative, but even the figurative level obeys the same basic law, you can't immanentize the eschaton.

    If you think I'm really unreceptive to any good faith exchange with anything you say, that's something I take very seriously. Let me prove my self. I'll re-extend you the offer I made to you before to guest post at my blog. Be as brilliant and as long as you want I won't censor. I can't do much better than that. You can accept or decline at your pleasure. Maybe you're just not interested.

    W^3

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  49. w.w.w.

    "...you can't immanentize the eschaton."

    Excellent

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  50. Mark @ #42

    Thanks for reminding me - will help to keep my blood pressure under control.

    Re-reading this sentence from the post:

    "The CGD analysis shows that a $10 billion OPIC portfolio focused on 100% off-grid renewables would provide energy access to 70 million less people than if that portfolio was 100% natural gas."

    ...it strikes me that the evasions of Joshua, fordprefect and their fellow travellers are beyond wrong, bordering on immoral. I don't know what truly motivates them but it will be a crime if they prevail.

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  51. Mark and Roger:
    Not immoral; rather, unethical.
    Both Josh. and The Ford. are moral - they do advocate and adhere to a community standard. This standard neither accepts nor honors the argument for an admittedly imperfect democratic social structure - cf. upthread, an other's Lenin citation [final word: barbarism!]
    Major fail - Josh's, " ...assumption is that pretty much everyone here has the same goal - the most good distributed the most equitably to the most people." Further fail - I am convinced that Josh/Ford expect to be distributors, as did Tolstoy, perhaps: Lenin's agents gave him a pointed response.

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  52. w.w. wygart -


    ==]] To me, that attitude is rhetorically weak, its weak when I do it, and its weak when you do it. What I, and several others here it seems, expect is some type of fair summary of Sen's theses that apply to what you believe - set us straight, just don't pass the buck. [[==

    I don't think that incorporates what I said about the subject, what I said about my reasons for doing as I did. So be it. I thought it should be obvious to start with, and I thought that even if it weren't, my explanation should suffice. I don't think there's reason to go over that ground any more.

    I don't particularly care that someone reading this exchange might now have a better understanding of Sen's perspective because of reading your comments. Chances are, those who might have had that benefit would not have accepted anything I'd have to say, anyway. So if anything, maybe it worked out better that way.

    ==]] If you think I'm really unreceptive to any good faith exchange with anything you say, that's something I take very seriously. [[==

    No, I don't think that. You showed that not to be the case.

    ==]] Be as brilliant and as long as you want I won't censor. [[==

    There would be no chance of me being brilliant.

    ==]] I can't do much better than that. You can accept or decline at your pleasure. Maybe you're just not interested. [[==

    I appreciate the offer - but I don't feel inclined to take you up on it. As I said, I agreed with most of what you said w/r/t your take on Sen. I have nothing in particular that I would want to be the subject of a guest post.

    BTW - what's the URL for your blog?

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  53. Perhaps someone here (Roger?) knows the answer to this question:

    From the report:

    ==]] The result is driven principally by the higher private investment leveraging ratios of natural gas projects (5:1 versus 1.5:1 based on OPIC’s historical portfolio). [[==

    Does anyone know how questions about related variables such as geography, infrastructure, and government institutional functionality figure in to those leveraging ratio calculations?

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  54. The climate obsessed are defending the indefensibile, and supporting rent seeking. Amazing.

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  55. This is the problem when you have multiple goals, trying to figure out which one you value more. Any realistic approach would include natural gas. At the same time, the cheapest energy source in many places is still coal. Finding the middle ground between emissions and energy access is not a simple problem.
    But my question is, why not nuclear? Best of both worlds, low carbon and high energy output. Pay for it by giving the African countries loans with low interest rates. Through these programs, you could drive nuclear growth and bring the price further down worldwide.

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  56. When we consider that more C02 means a greener world, this is a no brainer.

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