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Effective and Equitable Adoption of Opt-In Residential Dynamic Electricity Pricing

  • Severin Borenstein

While time-varying retail electricity pricing is very popular with economists, that support is not matched among regulators and consumers. Many papers have been written estimating and extolling the societal benefits of time-varying rates -- especially dynamic rates that change on a day's notice or less. Yet, such tariffs have been almost completely absent in the residential sector. In this paper, I present a potential approach to implementing an opt-in dynamic pricing plan that would be equitable to both customers who choose the rate and to those who choose to remain on a default flat-rate tariff. The approach bases the dynamic and the flat rate on the same underlying cost structure, and minimizes cross-subsidies between the two groups. I study the potential distributional impact of such a tariff structure using hourly consumption data for stratified random samples of customers from California's two largest utilities. I find that low-income households would, on average, see almost no change in their bills, while low-consumption households would see their bills decline somewhat and high-consumption households would see their bills rise. I also show that the opt-in approach is unlikely to increase the flat rate charged to other customers by more than a few percentage points. I then discuss the most common approach to implementing dynamic electricity pricing -- critical-peak pricing -- and suggest how it might be designed to more accurately match retail price spikes with periods of true supply shortages. Finally, I study the incentive problems created by an alternative program in growing use that pays customers to reduce their consumption on peak usage days.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18037.

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Date of creation: May 2012
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Publication status: published as S. Borenstein, 2013. "Effective and Equitable Adoption of Opt-In Residential Dynamic Electricity Pricing," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer, vol. 42(2), pages 127-160, March.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18037
Note: EEE IO
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  1. Severin Borenstein, 2005. "The Long-Run Efficiency of Real-Time Electricity Pricing," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 3), pages 93-116.
  2. Faruqui, Ahmad & George, Stephen, 2005. "Quantifying Customer Response to Dynamic Pricing," The Electricity Journal, Elsevier, vol. 18(4), pages 53-63, May.
  3. Severin Borenstein, 2007. "Customer Risk from Real-Time Retail Electricity Pricing: Bill Volatility and Hedgability," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 2), pages 111-130.
  4. Koichiro Ito, 2012. "Do Consumers Respond to Marginal or Average Price? Evidence from Nonlinear Electricity Pricing," NBER Working Papers 18533, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Alexander, Barbara R., 2010. "Dynamic Pricing? Not So Fast! A Residential Consumer Perspective," The Electricity Journal, Elsevier, vol. 23(6), pages 39-49, July.
  6. Severin Borenstein, 2002. "The Trouble With Electricity Markets: Understanding California's Restructuring Disaster," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(1), pages 191-211, Winter.
  7. Herter, Karen & McAuliffe, Patrick & Rosenfeld, Arthur, 2007. "An exploratory analysis of California residential customer response to critical peak pricing of electricity," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 25-34.
  8. Severin Borenstein & Stephen Holland, 2005. "On the Efficiency of Competitive Electricity Markets with Time-Invariant Retail Prices," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 36(3), pages 469-493, Autumn.
  9. Severin Borenstein, 2010. "The Redistributional Impact of Non-linear Electricity Pricing," NBER Working Papers 15822, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Severin Borenstein, 2007. "Wealth Transfers Among Large Customers from Implementing Real-Time Retail Electricity Pricing," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 2), pages 131-150.
  11. Kahn, Alfred E, 1979. "Applications of Economics to an Imperfect World," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(2), pages 1-13, May.
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