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The Private and Public Economics of Renewable Electricity Generation

  • Severin Borenstein

Generating electricity from renewable sources is more expensive than conventional approaches, but reduces pollution externalities. Analyzing the tradeoff is much more challenging than often presumed, because the value of electricity is extremely dependent on the time and location at which it is produced, which is not very controllable with some renewables, such as wind and solar. Likewise, the pollution benefits from renewable generation depend on what type of generation it displaces, which also depends on time and location. Without incorporating these factors, cost-benefit analyses of alternatives are likely to be misleading. However, other common arguments for subsidizing renewable power - green jobs, energy security and driving down fossil energy prices - are unlikely to substantially alter the analysis. The role of intellectual property spillovers is a strong argument for subsidizing energy science research, but less persuasive as an enhancement to the value of installing current renewable energy technologies.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17695.

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Date of creation: Dec 2011
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Publication status: published as Severin Borenstein, 2012. "The Private and Public Economics of Renewable Electricity Generation," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 26(1), pages 67-92, Winter.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17695
Note: EEE IO
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  1. Lucas W. Davis & Catherine Wolfram, 2011. "Deregulation, Consolidation, and Efficiency: Evidence from U.S. Nuclear Power," NBER Working Papers 17341, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Michael Greenstone & Elizabeth Kopits & Ann Wolverton, 2011. "Estimating the Social Cost of Carbon for Use in U.S. Federal Rulemakings: A Summary and Interpretation," NBER Working Papers 16913, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Gautam Gowrisankaran & Stanley S. Reynolds & Mario Samano, 2011. "Intermittency and the Value of Renewable Energy," NBER Working Papers 17086, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  7. Gilbert E. Metcalf, 2009. "Designing a Carbon Tax to Reduce U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 3(1), pages 63-83, Winter.
  8. Nathaniel O. Keohane, 2009. "Cap and Trade, Rehabilitated: Using Tradable Permits to Control U.S. Greenhouse Gases," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 3(1), pages 42-62, Winter.
  9. Nemet, Gregory F., 2006. "Beyond the learning curve: factors influencing cost reductions in photovoltaics," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 34(17), pages 3218-3232, November.
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