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Estimating Path Dependence in Energy Transitions

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  • Kyle Meng

    (University of California, Santa Barbara and NBER)

Abstract

How can an economy transition from dirty to clean inputs? When transitional dynamics exhibit strong path dependence, a temporary shock to input composition can trigger permanent structural change. This paper examines whether such dynamics characterize the U.S. energy sector’s use of coal - the most climate-damaging energy input - over the 20th century. Exploiting local coal transport distance shocks driven by the changing regional accessibility of subsurface coal resources, I find increasing imbalance in the coal composition of electricity capital lasting ten decades following a shock. Additional tests detect increasing returns to scale as the underlying mechanism. To inform energy transitions more broadly, I develop a model of scale-driven structural change to map reduced-form estimates onto a key parameter found across a class of structural change models. Calibrated model simulations further characterize conditions under which a temporary climate policy can trigger a permanent future transition towards clean energy.

Suggested Citation

  • Kyle Meng, 2019. "Estimating Path Dependence in Energy Transitions," 2019 Meeting Papers 1539, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed019:1539
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    File URL: https://economicdynamics.org/meetpapers/2019/paper_1539.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Steve Cicala, 2015. "When Does Regulation Distort Costs? Lessons from Fuel Procurement in US Electricity Generation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(1), pages 411-444, January.
    2. Philippe Aghion & Antoine Dechezleprêtre & David Hémous & Ralf Martin & John Van Reenen, 2016. "Carbon Taxes, Path Dependency, and Directed Technical Change: Evidence from the Auto Industry," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 124(1), pages 1-51.
    3. Richard Hornbeck, 2012. "The Enduring Impact of the American Dust Bowl: Short- and Long-Run Adjustments to Environmental Catastrophe," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(4), pages 1477-1507, June.
    4. Richard Hornbeck & Pinar Keskin, 2014. "The Historically Evolving Impact of the Ogallala Aquifer: Agricultural Adaptation to Groundwater and Drought," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 6(1), pages 190-219, January.
    5. Marcelo J. Moreira, 2003. "A Conditional Likelihood Ratio Test for Structural Models," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 71(4), pages 1027-1048, July.
    6. Kenneth Y. Chay & Michael Greenstone, 2005. "Does Air Quality Matter? Evidence from the Housing Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(2), pages 376-424, April.
    7. Charles M. Tiebout, 1956. "A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 64, pages 416-416.
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