Neoconservatives arrayed in their Washington offices are congratulating themselves on their success in using the Charlie Hebdo affair to reunite Europe with Washington’s foreign policy. No more French votes with the Palestinians against the Washington-Israeli position.
No more growing European sympathy with the Palestinians. No more growing European opposition to launching new wars in the Middle East. No more calls from the French president to end the sanctions against Russia.
Do the neoconservatives also understand that they have united Europeans with the right-wing anti-immigration political parties? The wave of support for the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists is the wave of Marine Le Pen’s National Front, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party, and Germany’s PEGIDA sweeping over Europe. These parties are empowered by the anti-immigration fervor that was orchestrated in order to reunite Europeans with Washington and Israel.
Once again the arrogant and insolent neoconservatives have blundered. Charlie Hebdo’s empowerment of the anti-immigration parties has the potential to revolutionize European politics and destroy Washington’s empire. See my weekend interview with King World News for my thoughts on this potential game-changer. http://kingworldnews.com/paul-craig-roberts-new-crisis-worse-russia-unleashing-black-swans-west/
The reports from the UK Daily Mail and from Zero Hedge that Russia has cut off natural gas deliveries to six European countries must be incorrect.
These sources are credible and well-informed, but such a cut-off would have instantly produced political and financial turmoil of which there is no sign. Therefore, unless there is a news blackout, Russia’s action has been misunderstood.
We know something real has happened. Otherwise, EU energy official Maros Sefcovic would not be expressing such consternation.
Although I am without any definite information, I believe I know what the real story is. Russia, tired of Ukraine’s theft of the natural gas that passes through the country on its way to delivery to Europe, has made a decision to route the gas to Turkey, thus bypassing Ukraine.
The Russian energy minister has confirmed this decision and added that if European countries wish to avail themselves of this gas supply, they must put in place the infrastructure or pipeline to bring the gas into their countries.
In other words, there is a potential for a cutoff in the future, but no cutoff at the present.
These two events–Charlie Hebdo and the Russian decision to cease delivering gas to Europe via Ukraine–should remind us that the potential for black swans, and unintended consequences of official decisions that can produce black swans, always exist. Not even the American “superpower” is immune from black swans.
There is as much circumstantial evidence that the CIA and French Intelligence are responsible for the Charlie Hebdo shootings as there is that the shootings were carried out by the two brothers whose ID was conveniently found in the alleged get-away car. As the French made certain that the brothers were killed before they could talk, we will never know what they had to say about the plot.
The only evidence we have that the brothers are guilty is the claim by the security forces. Every time I hear government claims without real evidence, I remember Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” Assad’s “use of chemical weapons,” and Iran’s “nuclear weapons program.”
If a US National Security Advisor can conjure up out of thin air “mushroom clouds over an American city,” Cherif and Said Kouachi can be turned into killers. After all, they are dead and cannot protest.
If this was, and we will never know for certain, a false flag attack, it achieved Washington’s goal of reuniting Europe under Washington and Israeli auspices. But this success has an unintended consequence. The unintended consequence is to unify Europe under the anti-immigration policy of the right-wing parties, thus empowering the leaders of those parties.
If this surmise is correct, Marie Le Pen and Nigel Farage will find their lives and/or reputations in danger as Washington will resist the rise of European governments that do not adhere to Washington’s line.
The consternation caused by Russia’s decision to relocate its gas delivery to Europe is proof that Russia holds many cards that Russia could play that would bring down the political and financial structures of the Western World.
China holds similar cards.
The two countries are not playing their cards, because they do not think that they need them. Instead, the two powers are withdrawing from the Western financial system that serves Western hegemony over the world. They are creating all of the economic institutions that they need in order to be completely independent of the West.
Therefore, the Russian and Chinese governments reason, “Why be provocative and slap down the Western fools. They might resort to their nuclear weapons, and the entire world would be lost. Let’s just walk away while they encourage us to depart with their provocations.”
We can be thankful that Vladimir Putin and the leaders of the Chinese government are both intelligent and humane, unlike Western leaders.
Imagine, for example, the dire consequences for the West if Putin were to become personally involved as a result of the numerous affronts to both Russia and Putin himself. Putin can destroy NATO and the entire Western financial system whenever he wants. All he has to do is to announce that as NATO has declared economic war against Russia, Russia no longer sells energy to NATO members.
The NATO alliance would dissolve as Europe cannot survive without Russian energy supplies. Washington’s empire would end.
Putin realizes that the insolent neoconservatives would have to push the nuclear button in order to save face. Unlike Putin, their egos are on the line. Thus, Putin saves the world from nuclear war by not being provocative.
Now, imagine if the Chinese government were to lose its patience with Washington. To confront the “exceptional, indispensable, unipower” with the reality of its impotence, all China needs to do is to dump its massive dollar-denominated financial assets on the market, all at once, just as the Federal Reserve’s bullion bank agents dump massive uncovered gold contracts on the future’s market.
In order to avoid US financial collapse, the Federal Reserve would have to print massive amounts of new dollars with which to purchase the dumped Chinese holdings. As the Federal Reserve would protect US financial markets by purchasing the dumped Chinese holdings, the Chinese would lose nothing from the sale. It is the next step that is decisive. The Chinese government then dumps the massive holdings of dollars it has received from its selloff of dollar-dominated financial instruments.
Now what happens? The Fed can print dollars with which to purchase the dumped Chinese holdings, but the Fed cannot print foreign currencies with which to buy up the dumped dollars.
The massive supply of dollars dumped in the exchange market by China would have no takers. The dollar’s value would collapse. Washington could no longer pay its bills by printing money. Americans living in an import-dependent country, thanks to jobs offshoring, would be faced with high prices that would seriously erode their living standard. The United States would experience economic, social, and political instability.
Putting aside their brainwashing, their defensiveness and patriotic support of the regime in Washington, Americans need to ask themselves: How is it possible that the government of the United States, an alleged Superpower, is so unaware of its true vulnerabilities that Washington is capable of pushing two real powers until they have had enough and play the cards that they hold?
Americans need to understand that the only thing exceptional about the US is the ignorance of the population and the stupidity of the government.
What other country would let a handful of Wall Street crooks control its economic and foreign policy, run its central bank and Treasury, and subordinate citizens’ interests to the interests of the one percent’s pocketbook?
A population this insouciant is at the total mercy of Russia and China.
Yesterday there was a black swan event, an event that could yet unleash other black swan events. The Swiss central bank announced an end to its pegging of the Swiss franc to the euro and US –
Three years ago flight from euros and dollars into Swiss francs pushed the exchange value of the franc so high that it threatened the existence of the Swiss export industries. Switzerland announced that any further inflows of foreign currencies into francs would be met by creating new francs to absorb the inflows so as not to drive up the exchange rate further. In other words, the Swiss pegged the franc.
Yesterday the Swiss central bank announced that the peg was off. The franc instantly rose in value. Stocks of Swiss export companies fell, and hedge funds wrongly positioned incurred major hits to their solvency.
Why did the Swiss remove the peg? It was not a costless action. It cost the central bank and Swiss export industries substantially.
The answer is that the EU attorney general ruled that it was permissible for the EU central bank to initiate Quantitative Easing–that is, the printing of new euros–in order to bail out the mistakes of the private bankers.
This decision means that Switzerland expects to be confronted with massive flight from the euro and that the Swiss central bank is unwilling to print enough new Swiss francs to maintain the peg. The Swiss central bank believes that it would have to run the printing press so hard that the basis of the Swiss money supply would explode, far exceeding the GDP of Switzerland.
The money printing policy of the US, Japan, and apparently now the EU has forced other countries to inflate their own currencies in order to prevent the rise in the exchange value of their currencies that would curtail their ability to export and earn foreign currencies with which to pay for their imports. Thus Washington has forced the world into printing money.
The Swiss have backed out of this system. Will others follow, or will the rest of the world follow the Russians and Chinese governments into new monetary arrangements and simply turn their backs on the corrupt and irredeemable West?
The level of corruption and manipulation that characterizes US economic and foreign policy today was impossible in earlier times when Washington’s ambition was constrained by the Soviet Union. The greed for hegemonic power has made Washington the most corrupt government on earth.
The consequence of this corruption is ruin.
“Leadership passes into empire. Empire begets insolence. Insolence brings ruin.”
Ruin is America’s future.
And, what about Russia’s Future:
Russia Just Pulled Itself Out Of Petrodollar
Back in November, before most grasped just how serious the collapse in crude was (and would become, as well as its massive implications), independent analytics wrote “How The Petrodollar Quietly Died, And Nobody Noticed“, because for the first time in almost two decades, energy-exporting countries would pull their “petrodollars” out of world markets in 2015.
This empirical death of Petrodollar followed years of windfalls for oil exporters such as Russia, Angola, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. Much of that money found its way into financial markets, helping to boost asset prices and keep the cost of borrowing down, through so-called petrodollar recycling.
They added that in 2014 “the oil producers will effectively import capital amounting to $7.6 billion. By comparison, they exported $60 billion in 2013 and $248 billion in 2012, according to the following graphic based on BNP Paribas calculations.”
The problem was compounded by its own positive feedback loop: as the last few weeks vividly demonstrated, plunging oil would lead to a further liquidation in foreign reserves for the oil exporters who rushed to preserve their currencies, leading to even greater drops in oil as the viable producers rushed to pump out as much crude out of the ground as possible in a scramble to put the weakest producers out of business, and to crush marginal production. Call it Game Theory gone mad and on steroids.
Ironically, when the price of crude started its self-reinforcing plunge, such a death would happen whether the petrodollar participants wanted it, or, as the case may be, were dragged into the abattoir kicking and screaming.
It is the latter that seems to have taken place with the one country that many though initially would do everything in its power to have an amicable departure from the Petrodollar and yet whose divorce from the USD has quickly become a very messy affair, with lots of screaming and the occasional artillery shell.
As Bloomberg reports, Russia may ‘unseal its $88 billion Reserve Fund and convert some of its foreign-currency holdings into rubles, the latest government effort to prop up an economy veering into its worst slump since 2009.’
These are dollars which Russia would have otherwise recycled into US denominated assets. Instead, Russia will purchase even more Rubles and use the proceeds for FX and economic stabilization purposes.
“Together with the central bank, we are selling a part of our foreign-currency reserves,” Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said in Moscow today. “We’ll get rubles and place them in deposits for banks, giving liquidity to the economy.”
Call it less than amicable divorce, call it what you will: what it is, is Russia violently leaving the ranks of countries that exchange crude for US paper.
Russia may convert as much as 500 billion rubles from one of the government’s two sovereign wealth funds to support the national currency, Siluanov said, calling the ruble “undervalued.” The Finance Ministry last month started selling foreign currency remaining on the Treasury’s accounts.
The entire 500 billion rubles or part of the amount will be converted in January-February through the central bank, according to Deputy Finance Minister Alexey Moiseev. The Bank of Russia will determine the timing and method of the operation.
The ruble, the world’s second-worst performing currency last year, weakened for a fourth day, losing 1.3 percent to 66.0775 against the dollar by 3:21 p.m. in Moscow. It trimmed a drop of as much as 2 percent after Siluanov’s comments. The ruble’s continued slump this year underscores the fragility of coordinated measures by Russia’s government and central bank that steered the ruble’s rebound from a record-low intraday level of 80.10 on Dec. 16. OAO Gazprom and four other state-controlled exporters were ordered last month to cut foreign-currency holdings by March 1 to levels no higher than they were on Oct. 1. The central bank sought to make it easier for banks to access dollars and euros while raising its key rate to 17 percent, the emergency level it introduced last month to arrest the ruble collapse.
Today’s announcement “looks ruble-supportive, as together with state-driven selling from exporters it would support FX supply on the market,” Dmitry Polevoy, chief economist for Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States at ING Groep NV in Moscow, said by e-mail. “Also, it will be helpful for banks, while there might be some negative effects related to extra money supply and risks of using some of the money on the FX market for short-term speculations.
Bloomberg’s dready summary of the US economy is generally spot on, and is to be expected when any nation finally leaves, voluntarily or otherwise, the stranglehold of a global reserve currency. What Bloomberg failed to account for is what happens to the remainder of the Petrodollar world. Here is what researches said last time:
Outside from the domestic economic impact within EMs due to the downward oil price shock, we believe that the implications for financial market liquidity via the reduced recycling of petrodollars should not be underestimated. Because energy exporters do not fully invest their export receipts and effectively ‘save’ a considerable portion of their income, these surplus funds find their way back into bank deposits (fuelling the loan market) as well as into financial markets and other assets. This capital has helped fund debt among importers, helping to boost overall growth as well as other financial markets liquidity conditions.
[T]his year, it is to expect that incremental liquidity typically provided by such recycled flows will be markedly reduced, estimating that direct and other capital outflows from energy exporters will have declined by USD253bn YoY. Of course, these economies also receive inward capital, so on a net basis, the additional capital provided externally is much lower. This year, it is to expect that net capital flows will be negative for EM, representing the first net inflow of capital (USD8bn) for the first time in eighteen years. This compares with USD60bn last year, which itself was down from USD248bn in 2012. At its peak, recycled EM petro dollars amounted to USD511bn back in 2006. The declines seen since 2006 not only reflect the changed global environment, but also the propensity of underlying exporters to begin investing the money domestically rather than save. The implications for financial markets liquidity – not to mention related downward pressure on US Treasury yields – is negative.
Considering the wildly violent moves we have seen so far in the market confirming just how little liquidity is left in the market, and of course, the absolutely collapse in Treasury yields, with the 30 Year just hitting a record low, this prediction has been borne out precisely as expected.
And now, one should await to see which other country will follow Russia out of the Petrodollar next, and what impact that will have not only on the world’s reserve currency, on US Treasury rates, and on the most financialized commodity as this chart demonstrates:
… but on what is most important to developed world central planners everywhere: asset prices levels, and specifically what happens when the sellers emerge into what is rapidly shaping up as the most illiquid market in history.
First published by 4th Media, under title: “Ruin is America’s Future: Swiss Central Bank Announced End to Its Pegging of the Swiss Franc to Euro and US Dollar”
Attack on Saudi oil facilities: Consequences and solutions
As expected, oil markets started Monday trading with an unprecedented jump in prices following the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities which wiped nearly five percent of the global oil supply from the market.
Drone attacks claimed by Yemen’s Houthis on Saturday struck two of Saudi Aramco’s major oil facilities in Khurais and Abqaiq – the world’s largest oil processing facility and crude oil stabilization plant.
Now, few days after the attacks, global oil markets are waiting to see how the disrupted oil is going to be compensated for.
Will Saudis be able to get their production back to its full capacity in a short period of time? If not, what are the options for replacing the lost barrels to keep the market in balance?
The market’s reaction
A few hours after the strikes, Aramco released a statement confirming that production of 5.7 million barrels of crude (more than half of the kingdom’s output) was affected by the attacks.
Aramco’s statement sparked a wave of panic in the oil markets across the globe, causing for bets on oil prices to go as high as $100.
As it was expected, in the first minutes of the Monday morning trades, Brent crude jumped $12 to reach $71 per barrel, posting its biggest ever surge in a day.
The market’s significant reaction to the incident could also be translated as an indication of the skepticism about the promises of recovery by the Saudis or vows of taping into emergency oil reserves by the United States.
It is also a manifestation of yet another aspect of the world’s energy cycle, that is the realization a
bout the vulnerability of the global oil market and the magnitude of the impact of geopolitical factors on this market.
As Ed Morse from Citigroup Inc. wrote in a research note, “No matter
whether it takes Saudi Arabia five days or a lot longer to get oil back into
production, there is but one rational takeaway from this weekend’s drone
attacks on the Kingdom’s infrastructure — that infrastructure is highly
vulnerable to attack, and the market has been persistently mispricing
So, despite all the reassurance, oil markets around the world are once again overshadowed by the geopolitical risks and at least for some time the geopolitical risk premium will be seen in the oil prices.
Replacements for the lost oil
Many analysts and experts believe that Saudi Aramco won’t be able to get all the lost capacity back over a short period of time and it would at least take a couple of weeks to get back to the full capacity.
Considering the worst case scenario, some analysts believe that the oil market should be looking for new sources of crude supply in case the damage to the Aramco facilities turn out to be more than what is seems and the Saudi’s oil production takes more time than expected to get back to its full capacity.
One option, as previously mentioned, is the U.S. emergency reserves which Trump has promised to release to balance the market. However, analysts believe that such an action will likely not be taken in the short term.
“I don’t think a release is imminent,” Bob McNally, president of Rapidan Energy Group, told S&P Global Platts. “Everything depends on how much damage has been done and how long will it last.”
There is also the matter of distance and time, as Sandy Fielden, analyst at Morningstar puts it, “It takes 19-20 days to ship Ras Tanura (Saudi) to Singapore, but 54 days from Houston to Singapore. So U.S. ‘relief’ will take time.”
It should also be mentioned that, although the U.S. strategic reserves are estimated at about 625 million barrels, but its offshore borders have restrictions on oil transportation. As the U.S. Department of Energy said in a report in 2016, the United States could release up to 2.1 million barrels a day from its strategic reserves.
Another option which is more likely in the short term is Saudi Arabia’s own reserves in countries like China and Japan, but with the kingdom’s limited reserves, the loss could only be replaced for approximately 30-45 days, according to McNally.
“Saudi Arabia has about 188 million barrels of oil stockpiled, which can offset the 5-million-barrels of lost oil only for about 37 days,” McNally said.
Even if Aramco manages to recover 2 million barrels of the disrupted capacity in short term (as they have claimed), the other 3.7 million barrels should be supplied from the reserves.
So if the oil which has been disrupted is not replaced before the company’s stored supplies end, the market would go into an even more complicated situation.
Finally, some other believe that the easiest solution is to waiver the Iranian oil.
“The obvious short-term fix would be waivers on Iran sanctions, but politically that’s a hard pill for the Trump administration to swallow. By all accounts the Iranians have tankers full of storage ready to go,” Sandy Fielden said.
Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University also believes that Iran could be a reliable source of additional supply in case the disruptions prolong.
From our partner Tehran Times
Energy and Poverty
Energy and poverty are intertwined. In the last ten years India according to the United Nations (UN) 2019 Multidimensional Poverty Index, lifted over 270 million Indian citizens out of extreme poverty; since they acquired growing electrification and access to energy. But many nations believe chaotic, intermittent renewables – mainly wind and solar – will achieve these results. Meanwhile, the world watches passively while the weaponization of energyled by China, Russia and Iran (CRI) is teetering Asia towards memories of 1939 and the emergence of World War III.
Europe and the U.S. wholeheartedly believe renewables will power billions in China, India, Africa, and Asia hungry for energy and electricity. Europe even welcomes with open arms, Iranian terrorist-monies for their dispirited economies. What the U.S. should do is “drown the world in oil.”Build power plants, and watch the planet flourish with affordable electricity. Nations need energy now.
Whoever controls energy – mainly oil, natural gas, coal and increasingly nuclear power – rules with either an iron fist or a benevolent one? But the world is in a stage of chaotic order with CRI challenging the US-led liberal order in place since the end of World War II (WWII). Energy is the new superpower.
Never before has energy and electricity played the leading role in alleviating poverty. Social order, religion, and family structure are still important – though all three are under attack over environmental extremism – but nothing has done more for human achievement, increased life expectancies, and ameliorating hunger like access to oil, natural gas, and coal that brings scalable, reliable affordable, abundant and flexible energy and electricity.
Allowing the Guardian newspaper, and green clergy parading as environmentalists such as Bill McKibben, Paul Ehrlich and John Holden to determine energy policies that lead to poverty is evil and shameful. These men then attack human reproduction, productivity, longevity, and technological progress through delaying or crushingenhanced infrastructure projects.
Renewables and believing an existential crisis exists via climate change when there are serious doubts (research the Oregon Petition and Marc Moreno for starters) won’t stop CRI from becoming the new hegemonic powers. Even NASA has admitted it is the sun that affects the earth more than burning fossil fuels. Then the last seventy five years of fighting poverty will be overturn over dubious, global warming claims, and relying on the sun and wind for electricity backed up by fossil fuels onto electrical grids.
We have entered the era of allowing Al Gore-types (whose predictions and science are generally wrong) to set national security, foreign policy, and realist balancing based on inaccurate predictions of the weather. But the former U.S. Vice President isn’t the only doomsayer whose global warming/climate change prognostications are deceptively incorrect. This has profound implications for energy, poverty, and global peace.
Renewables, and setting energy polices based on global warming/climate change only leads to poverty and geopolitical chaos. Poverty is now in the form of:
“Trillions in subsidies, rocketing power prices, pristine landscapes turned into industrial wastelands, wrecked rural communities and bird and bat carnage.”
The U.S. and European led “Green New Deals” will destroy humanity, and lead to backbreaking poverty. It’s why India has chosen reliable, affordable coal-fired power plants over solar and wind farms for electricity. China is following India’s lead, and slashing renewables, clean energy and technology subsidies by 39 percent; and building coal-fired power plants at a record pace.
Chinese has even used “green finance” monies for coal investments.Overall “global renewable growth (and investment) has stalled,” particularly in Europe.Why are global subsidies, production credits and tax incentives for renewables are being cut by governments and private investors?
Solar and wind have led to electrical grid blackouts in Australia, Britain, New York City, and grid instability in U.S. state, Texas, and substantially higher electricity costs. Additionally, renewables cannot replace the approximately6,000 products that came from a barrel crude oil.
Renewables (solar and wind) will never be enough for decades ahead to power modern, growing economies, or countries, and continents such as China, India and Africa, which are emerging from the energy and electrical dark ages. A city, county, state, nation, or continent needs reliable electricity 24/7/365, and renewables are chaotically intermittent. U.S. energy firm Duke Energy now believes solar farms are increasing pollution; Michael Shellenberger, Time Magazine environmental hero recipient echoes the same sentiments. Mr. Shellenberger also includes wind power with solar increasing emissions.
Moreover, renewable investments are plummeting, because unless electricity markets are skewed towards favoring renewables, the entire market for solar and wind produced electricity breakdowns. Then the entire renewable to electricity model relies on energy storage systems that do not have enough capacity or technological progress currently available to provide uninterrupted, on-demand electricity to all ratepayers and recipients from the grid.
It energy-nihilism to think, or believe storage from wind and solar will generate affordable, reliable, scalable, and flexible electricity. If fossil fuels are replaced on a large-scale basis it will lead to increased pollution, higher than average levelized cost of electricity, grid instability, environmental destruction, and poverty. This why most people don’t want renewables near them; meaning, there isn’t a green transition-taking place.
But geopolitics is where energy and poverty collide, and renewables replacing fossil fuels based on the overarching belief of anthropogenic global warming (whose climate models consistently fail) is how the global instability could deepen and grow.
According to the Bloomberg Economic gauge, China’s economy is dramatically slowing, “due to its vast self-made problems.” Which means as long as President Trump is in office the U.S.-China trade war will continue. The U.S. is winning, and Iran is still in Trump’s and the U.S.’ “crosshairs.” Both strategies receive negative media attention, but are causing geopolitical consternation. China and Iran will forcefully respond.
Nations and governments better have policies in place for energy and electrical stability to counter renewables instability, and the nation-state rivalry occurring between the U.S., NATO, and Asian allies against CRI. Either reliable energy will be chosen, or geopolitical wars over blackouts leading to lower military preparedness will happen. Either way energy and poverty are intertwined, or poverty can be defined as lower per-capita-GDP leading to conflicts that destroys countries. Choosing renewables and global warming-based energy policies will likely lead to poverty and possibly wartime catastrophes.
Rethinking Energy Sector Reforms in a Power Hungry World
Every country aspires to provide reliable, affordable, and sustainable electricity to its citizens. Yet during the past 25 years, some countries made huge strides, while others saw little progress. What accounts for this difference?
A new World Bank report—Rethinking Power Sector Reform in the Developing World—looks at the evidence on the ways in which developing countries have attempted to improve power sector performance and on what the outcomes have been.
Since 1990, many countries embarked on market-oriented power sector reforms that ranged from establishing independent regulators and privatizing parts of the power industry, to restructuring utilities and introducing competition. Each of these reforms has a story to tell.
Regulation: Regulation proved to be the most popular of the reforms, with about 70 percent of developing countries creating quasi-independent regulatory entities to oversee the task of setting prices and monitoring the quality of service. Although many countries enacted solid legal frameworks, the practice of regulation continues to lag far behind. For example, while almost all countries give the regulators legal authority on the critical issue of determining tariffs, this authority is routinely overruled by the governments in one out of three countries. While three out of four countries have adopted suitable regulations for quality-of-service, these regulations are only enforced in half of the cases.
Privatization: Thanks to the widespread adoption of Independent Power Projects, the private sector has—remarkably—contributed as much as 40 percent of new generation capacity in the developing world since 1990, even in low-income countries. However, the privatization of distribution utilities has proved much more challenging. Latin American markets drove an initial surge in the late 1990s, but there has been relatively little impetus to continue subsequently. Where distribution utilities were privatized, countries were much more likely to adhere to cost-recovery tariffs. Many privatized utilities also operate at high levels of efficiency; and their performance is matched by the better half of the public utilities. Irrespective of ownership, more efficient utilities have adopted better governance and management practices, including: transparent financial reporting, meritocratic staff selection, and modern IT systems.
Restructuring: Most developing countries continue to operate with vertically integrated national power utilities that operate as monopolies. Only one in five countries implemented both vertical and horizontal unbundling of utilities, separating out generation from transmission and transmission from distribution and creating multiple generation and distribution utilities. Restructuring is intended primarily as a stepping stone to deeper reforms, and countries that went no further tended not to see significant impacts. Indeed, restructuring of power systems that are very small and/or poorly governed—as in the case of many Sub-Saharan African countries—can actually be counter-productive by reducing the scale of operation and increasing its complexity.
Competition: Only one in five developing countries has been able to introduce a wholesale power market during the past 25 years, in which generators are free to sell power directly to a wide range of consumers. Most of these power markets are in Latin America and Eastern Europe. Such countries have reaped the benefits of more efficient allocation of generation resources, but they have typically needed to introduce more incentives to ensure adequate investment in new capacity. A demanding list of structural, financial, and regulatory preconditions for power markets prevents most other developing countries from following suit. Such a transition is rarely possible until power systems reach a size of around 3GW and a wholesale power turnover of around US$1 billion. For countries that are not yet ready, participating in a regional power market can bring many of the benefits of trade.
Reflecting on these experiences leads to conclusions that can inform future efforts to improve power sector performance. The main takeaways from the study are as follows.
Power is political: The implementation of market-oriented power sector reforms raises political challenges. Many countries announced reforms that did not subsequently go through, and some countries enacted reforms that later had to be reversed. In practice, electricity reforms proved to be most feasible in countries that already espoused a broader market ideology and in political systems based on the decentralization of power. Reform champions often played a crucial role in driving the change process, but broader stakeholder alignment proved to be equally important for reforms to be sustained in the longer term. For example, in the Dominican Republic, a far-reaching market-oriented reform was enacted in an unsupportive political environment and a turbulent macro-economic context that eventually led to the renationalization of the power utilities.
Starting conditions matter: Market-oriented reforms are complex and presuppose a power system that is already largely developed, adequately governed, and financially secured. Countries starting from this vantage point generally saw quite positive outcomes from power sector reform. But those that embarked on the process before these basic conditions were in place faced a much more difficult trajectory, with outcomes that often fell short of expectations. Thus, market-oriented power sector reform led to much better outcomes in relatively developed middle-income countries like Colombia, Peru, or the Philippines, than in more challenging environments such as Pakistan or the Indian State of Odisha. For example, in Peru, the power sector was fully restructured by 1994; private sector investment substantially increased in generation, transmission, and metropolitan area distribution networks, amounting to about $16 billion over 20 years. The creation of an effective sector regulator and wholesale power market institutions has driven the efficiency of the Peruvian power sector to best-practice levels and led to a significant reduction in the cost of energy.
One size does not fit all: Power sector reform is a means to an end. What ultimately matters are good power sector outcomes, and there may be different ways of getting there. Among the best-performing power sectors in the developing world are some that fully implemented market-oriented reforms, as well as others that retained a dominant and competent state-owned utility guided by strong policy mandates, combined with a more gradualist and targeted role for the private sector. This reality makes a case for greater pluralism of approaches going forward. In Vietnam, for instance, the central policy focus was on achieving universal access to electricity and rapid expansion of generation capacity to achieve energy security in a fast-growing economy. These objectives were achieved through strong leadership of state-owned entities, complemented by gradual and selective adoption of market reforms and targeted private sector investment.
Goal posts have moved: It used to be enough to achieve energy security and fiscal sustainability, but countries now have more ambitious 21st century policy objectives, notably, reaching universal access plus decarbonizing electricity supply. Market reforms can be helpful in improving the overall efficiency and financial viability of the power sector, and in creating a better climate for investment. However, they cannot—in and of themselves—deliver on these social and environmental aspirations. Complementary policy measures are needed to direct and incentivize the specific investments that are needed. For example, in Morocco, an ambitious scale-up of renewable energy was achieved through the creation of a new institution parallel to the traditional utility, with a specific policy mandate to direct private investment toward the achievement of government policy goals.
Technology disrupts: Rapid innovation is transforming the institutional landscape through the combined effect of renewable energy, battery storage, and digitalized networks. What used to be a highly centralized network industry is increasingly contested by decentralized actors. These include new entrants and consumers who may have the ability to generate their own electricity and/or adjust their demand in response to market signals. How this ultimately reshapes power sector organization will depend on the extent to which regulators open up markets to new players and reconfigure incentives for incumbent utilities to adopt innovative technologies.
In sum, a nuanced picture emerges from the experiences of developing countries that have aimed to turnaround power sector performance in the past 25 years. Drawing on this wealth of historical evidence, and informed by emerging technological trends, this report offers a new frame of reference for power sector reform that is shaped by context, driven by outcomes, and informed by alternatives.
The complete report can also be accessed at http://www.esmap.org/rethinking_power_sector_reform
The drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil wells
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