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Profits and Productivity: Stimulating Electricity Demand in Low-Income Settings

Authors: Victoria Plutshack and Jonathan Phillips

As electricity companies in low- and middle-income countries move deeper into rural regions, the cost of new connections generally increases while the electricity demanded by these new customers remains lower than urban and peri-urban customers. This is a challenging dynamic for utilities looking to sustain their financial health as well as for governments tasked with engineering viable strategies for achieving universal electrification. Off-grid platforms like solar home systems and minigrids have entered this market, developing innovative approaches to serving these populations that promise to scale up to help meet the needs of the one billion people around the world still lacking electricity access. The creative partnerships and complementary services these off-grid providers are pursuing provide important lessons for larger utilities. Yet the primary driver for new electricity connections—the grid—will continue to play an important role in closing the access gap, especially in places where serving commercial, industrial, and other productive loads is a priority. Countries with national utility companies facing massive debt, stagnant revenue, and overcapacity must develop strategies for maintaining fiscal health, ideally in a manner that facilitates rural income growth and development. 

Publications

Getting to Yes: Internal Preparations—State Carbon Trading Checklist for a Meeting with the Governor

Authors: Kate Konschnik

Public attention focuses on a policy once a governor makes a formal announcement and sets the debate in motion. However, much of the work happens before that moment, in conversations among state officials and their staff, and with key stakeholders. This memo is intended to support the work of “getting to yes” on a policy—in this case, a declining cap (and trade) program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions—once internal leadership has decided it is worth exploration. The memo reflects conversations with representatives of about a dozen states, including those that have capped carbon pollution, those that are in the process of doing so, and those that see this as a potential policy solution going forward.

Part One of this memo tackles the political case for action on a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program. Part Two describes the practical, nuts-and-bolts considerations to make before a policy announcement, to anticipate questions about design and legal authority, and to rally critical state and third-party resources.

Publications

Trends in Measuring Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function in Mitigation Quantification Methodologies

Authors: Erika Zambello, Lydia Olander, Emma Glidden-Lyon, Emily Meza, and Jessica Wilkinson

Over the last decade, efforts to use compensatory mitigation to manage and ameliorate the impacts of development on biodiversity and ecosystems around the world have accelerated. Mitigation mechanisms provide a structured way to advance economic development and infrastructure while also achieving environmental goals. In order to operationalize mitigation programs, practitioners need a methodology for calculating or quantifying impacts and offsets (debits and credits). The methods currently employed in the U.S. and abroad are extremely varied. Surprisingly, the literature on best practices or standards for developing science-based approaches to the quantification of impacts and offsets is sparse and there is also no single broadly accepted best practice guidance.

Publications

Are There Benefits to Integrating Corporate Health and Environmental Strategies? An Exploration of the Food/Agriculture and Textile Sectors

Authors: Vincent Gauthier, Lydia Olander, and Deborah Gallagher

Businesses impact environmental determinants of health and can play an important role in creating integrated approaches for promoting a healthy environment. This report describes the ways in which the food/agriculture and textile sectors affect environmental conditions that are associated with health risks and assesses how companies are tracking and addressing these interconnected issues. We define environmental and health strategy integration as having corporate goals, policies, metrics, initiatives, and products that strive to improve human health through reducing associated environmental impacts. We used company communication through sustainability reports as a proxy of whether or not companies are implementing environmental and health strategy integration. We followed up with company and industry group interviews to determine the advantages and disadvantages of health and environmental strategy integration. We found that 58% of companies recognized the connection between their environmental impacts and their associated health outcomes. Furthermore, we found that 46% of companies have products, operations, or programs that explicitly connect health and environmental issues within their strategy. This shows that some companies have integrated or are taking steps toward integrating their health and environmental strategies. Our company interviews indicated that integrating health and environment strategies can lead to internal efficiencies, clearer understanding of corporate social responsibility (CSR) purpose by stakeholders, and reduced cost of project implementations. On the other hand, companies pointed out potential challenges of integrating health and environmental strategies, including greater complexity and confusion, and higher costs of larger programs. Our report reveals that integrated health and environmental action is not standard practice within companies but is recognized and acted upon by many companies. Our research found that there are potential advantages to integrating health and environmental action, suggesting that companies may benefit from moving environment and health integration toward standard practice. Further research is necessary to develop the business case for company integration of health and environmental strategies. We hope that this report will engender greater discussion of this topic within the business and sustainability communities.

Publications

Research Agenda on Electricity Access and Productive Use

Authors: Marc Jeuland, James Morrissey, and Jonathan Phillips

On February 21, 2019, Duke University’s Energy Access Project and Oxfam cohosted a meeting of approximately 60 energy practitioners and researchers to discuss the role of electricity access in spurring productive use. A motivation for this convening was a paper, produced by Oxfam, which had been confounded by the mixed findings on the impact of electrification on productive use. This note provides a summary of the research agenda that emerged from these interactions.

Publications

Harnessing Competition in a Transitioning Electricity System: Opportunities for Traditional Cost-of-Service States

Authors: Jonas J. Monast, Franz T. Litz, and Kate Konschnik

Cost-of-service states with vertically integrated utilities can manage a rapidly changing electricity sector by expanding opportunities for competition, even while maintaining the traditional vertically integrated utility. In fact, competition has been deployed successfully by cost of service states to meet customer needs, bring down costs, and encourage innovation. Building on these models, states can strategically create new opportunities for competition between utilities and third-party providers to manage the risks of a changing sector while seizing new benefits for electricity customers, utilities and third-party providers. This policy brief identifies ways that cost-of-service states can increase third-party participation or utilize competition to spur new utility strategies, products, and services.

Publications

Managing Rivers Under Changing Environmental and Societal Boundary Conditions, Part 1: National Trends and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reservoirs

Authors: Lauren A. Patterson and Martin W. Doyle

Most major rivers in the United States are managed by a system of reservoirs; many of which were built more than a half century ago. These reservoirs were designed based on environmental, societal, and regulatory assumptions at the time of construction. Since then, we have learned that climate is not stationary, population growth is being decoupled from energy needs and water demand, and new regulations (such as the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act) affect how river systems are managed. This study explores changing environmental, societal, and regulatory conditions relevant to the design and operation of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs across the conterminous United States. Results demonstrate large geographic variability in how these conditions have changed over time. In the south‐western United States, there is an amplified trend towards drier conditions and less reservoir flexibility with warmer temperatures, less precipitation, high sedimentation rates, and large population growth. In the north‐eastern United States, the impacts of increased temperature on reservoirs may be masked by greater precipitation and lower water demand. Environmental, societal, and regulatory changes can reduce the flexibility of reservoir operations and, in some instances, make it challenging for the reservoir to meet its intended purpose as designed decades ago. This study is the first step towards formalizing a process for monitoring broad trends relevant to water resources management for the purpose of moving towards adaptation of infrastructure. An interactive tool was developed for each condition: https://nicholasinstitute.duke.edu/reservoir-national-trends/

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Publications

Managing Rivers Under Changing Environmental and Societal Boundary Conditions, Part 2: Expected Compared With Experienced Conditions at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reservoirs

Authors: Lauren A. Patterson, Mary Tchamkina, and Martin W. Doyle

Reservoirs are critical infrastructure typically built to function as designed for 50 to 100 years. The majority of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs are more than 50 years old. The environmental, societal, and regulatory conditions surrounding the reservoir, that is, the reservoir's expected conditions, shaped its design. Many of these expectations assumed a future similar to the past. However, recent decades have experienced warming climates, cyclical changes in precipitation, the introduction of new regulations, and populations concentrating in urban environments. The design documents for nine U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were obtained to compare the expected conditions when reservoirs were authorized with the conditions experienced since the reservoir began operating. In some instances, we found large differences between expectations and reality. Average precipitation at Philpott, North Carolina was 15% less than expected whereas the sedimentation rate at Redmond, Kansas was twice the expected rate. Reservoirs can adapt to changing conditions by updating water control plans, which has occurred at five of these reservoirs in the last decade. Reallocations are sometimes needed to address more significant changes. For example, Redmond has reallocated storage space due to higher than expected sedimentation, and Falls, North Carolina is seeking reallocation due to higher than expected population growth and water demand. As conditions change, controversies and litigation around Corps reservoir management will likely continue. This highlights the importance of clearly documenting changing conditions through consistent and ongoing data collection and analysis to facilitate adapting reservoir operations in a timely manner, thereby minimizing controversy. An interactive tool was developed for each condition: https://nicholasinstitute.duke.edu/reservoir-comparison/

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Publications

Southeast Electric Vehicle Regional Strategy

Authors: Jess Siegel

Throughout the Southeast, state and local leaders are recognizing the benefits of electric vehicles (EVs) and beginning to develop goals and strategies to increase EV penetration. Regional collaboration will be an important aspect of the EV build-out to truly offer expanded transportation options for families and corporate fleets, especially when travel crosses state lines. The development of a consistent regional standard for EV charging stations—including administration and interoperability—will simplify the process of building infrastructure throughout the Southeast as well as make it less costly to develop. A concerted effort to develop policies that standardize infrastructure in support of EVs as an accessible option for travel across state borders will increase EV adoption in the Southeast.

Publications

State Participation in Resource Adequacy Decisions in Multistate Regional Transmission Organizations

Authors: Jennifer Chen and Gabrielle Murnan

The fight over which resources power the grid and how much is required has intensified as flattening electricity demand, low natural gas prices, and preferences for non-emitting technologies push less efficient power plants to retire. The focus has been on substantive solutions, and most recently on attempting to “accommodate” state energy policies in the regional electricity markets—with disappointing results to states, consumer advocates, and clean energy businesses. Missing from this debate is process reform. How decision-making power is balanced between state and federal regulators determines whose goals are prioritized—state environmental and economic development policies, or generator revenue sufficiency and investor confidence in the regional electricity markets, among others. This paper looks at how the balance of power between state and federal regulators differs across multistate transmission organizations and concludes that existing mechanisms in one region could be adopted in another to enable meaningful state input. States dissatisfied with federal decision-making, therefore, have a range of options short of re-regulating or leaving the markets.

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