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The Visible Hand: Ensuring Optimal Investment in Electric Power Generation


  • Léautier, Thomas-Olivier


This article formally analyzes the causes of underinvestment in electric power generation, and the various corrective market designs that have been proposed and implemented. It yields four main analytical findings. First, using a simple numerical example, (a linear demand function, calibrated on the French power load duration curve), strategic supply reduction is shown to be a more important cause of underinvestment than the imposition of a price cap. Second, physical capacity certificates markets implemented in the United States restore optimal investment, but increase producers' profits beyond the imperfect competition level. Third, financial reliability options, proposed in many markets, fail to restore investment incentives. If a "no short sale" condition is added, they are equivalent to physical capacity certificates. Finally, if competition is perfect, energy only markets yield a negligible underinvestment compared to the optimum. Taken together, these findings suggest that, to ensure generation adequacy, policy makers should put more effort on enforcing competitive behavior in the energy markets, and less on designing additional markets.

Suggested Citation

  • Léautier, Thomas-Olivier, 2011. "The Visible Hand: Ensuring Optimal Investment in Electric Power Generation," TSE Working Papers 10-153, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE), revised 19 Aug 2012.
  • Handle: RePEc:tse:wpaper:22641

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Paul Joskow & Jean Tirole, 2007. "Reliability and competitive electricity markets," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 38(1), pages 60-84, March.
    2. Chao, Hung-po & Wilson, Robert, 1987. "Priority Service: Pricing, Investment, and Market Organization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(5), pages 899-916, December.
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    6. Cramton, Peter & Stoft, Steven, 2008. "Forward reliability markets: Less risk, less market power, more efficiency," Utilities Policy, Elsevier, vol. 16(3), pages 194-201, September.
    7. Thomas-Olivier Leautier, 2014. "Is Mandating "Smart Meters" Smart?," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 4).
    8. Zöttl, Gregor, 2011. "On optimal scarcity prices," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 29(5), pages 589-605, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Clastres, Cédric & Khalfallah, Haikel, 2015. "An analytical approach to activating demand elasticity with a demand response mechanism," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 52(PA), pages 195-206.

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    JEL classification:

    • L13 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Oligopoly and Other Imperfect Markets
    • L94 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Electric Utilities

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