David Robinson

Senior Research Fellow

David Robinson joined the OIES in July 2007. He is a consulting economist who advises on public policy and corporate strategy, especially in relation to energy and climate change. Recent research published by the Institute includes analysis of the following issues, among others: problems facing the European electricity sector; a comparison of US and European electricity prices (Oxford Energy Forum); the implications of the COP21 for the natural gas industry; electricity demand response in Shanghai, China; the challenges of integrating renewable power in Europe; the prospects for coal and natural gas in the US electricity sector; and problems with regulation of wind power in Colombia. David runs his own consulting company (DR Associates), is an academic adviser to The Brattle Group of Economic and Financial Consultants, and was previously a director of NERA, where he was the co-chair of European Operations and of the Global Energy and Telecom Practices. He also worked at the International Energy Agency (IEA), and wrote his doctoral dissertation at the University of Oxford on the vertical disintegration of the international petroleum industry.

Areas of Expertise
Electricity and gas, Climate Change, Public Policy

For all non-OIES publications please click here

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                    [post_date] => 2015-12-01 13:36:40
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                    [post_content] => With the Paris COP in sight, the Spanish Gas Association (Sedigas) interviewed David Robinson on his views about the objectives of the COP, what to expect from that meeting and what the remaining challenges were likely to be. They were especially interested in the role of natural gas in addressing the challenges of climate change, the prospects for natural gas in Europe and Spain, and the strategic challenges facing the natural gas industry in the region. The interview was recently published in the Sedigaz journal in Gas Actual . This is a revised version in English.
                    [post_title] => The prospects for COP 21 and the future role of natural gas
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                    [post_content] => The major electricity companies (the ‘majors’) in Europe have not recovered from a significant decline in their combined market value that began in early 2008. If the causes are structural, as argued here, these companies may be unable or unwilling to finance the investments required to meet the EU policy goals of energy security, environmental sustainability, and acceptable costs.

This research paper by David Robinson argues that the problems facing the European majors reflect a ‘scissors effect’, which has two interpretations. On the one hand, it is a dynamic process whereby certain revenue streams fall, while costs rise, literally cutting profitability. The scissors metaphor extends to a second interpretation: that profitability is being hit - or will be soon - both upstream and downstream. The paper emphasizes underlying structural trends (stagnant demand, decarbonization and more active consumer participation) and government intervention as causes of the scissors effect. Although the structural trends seem now to be irreversible, the future of the sector still depends importantly on government decisions. This paper argues that current electricity regulations and market design are unsustainable. To address this, it is necessary to clarify the respective roles of government and markets and to design regulations and markets for a decarbonized electricity model and for the transition to the new model. Where markets do have a role to play, it is essential that they be left to play that role. The proposal draws on the original spirit of liberalization, but reflects the importance of decarbonization and the technological changes that make active consumer participation in electricity markets a reality. While the majors have to rethink corporate and regulatory strategy, their first priority should be to engage in the debate about the future role of government and competitive markets.

Executive Summary
                    [post_title] => The Scissors Effect - How structural trends and government intervention are damaging the major European electricity companies and affecting consumers
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                    [post_content] => The 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework on Climate Change (COP 20) recently concluded in Lima, Peru. It was the last COP before the Paris Climate Change Conference, to be held in December 2015, when the parties are expected to sign a universal agreement that would take effect from 2020. The first part of this article by David Robinson explains the pessimism about reaching a meaningful agreement in Paris, with a particular focus on mitigation. Part two summarizes the reasons why an agreement is widely anticipated in spite of this pessimism. Of course, the point is not just to reach an agreement and to let the negotiators declare victory, but to make a meaningful contribution to combatting climate change; part three of this article identifies some of the key negotiation issues that will determine the level of ambition, the structure of the agreement and, indeed, whether there will be any agreement at all. Part four identifies some of the initiatives that are required to bridge the gap between the mitigation called for by the science and the pledges that are expected in Paris. It argues that the currently low price of oil offers an opportunity for governments to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, introduce carbon taxes, and pay owners of fossil fuels to leave their resources in the ground; all tangible ways of combating climate change. However, successful de-carbonization also requires action by civil society and business, in particular technological innovation, improved energy efficiency, widespread implementation of low-carbon technologies, and the adoption of transformative and profitable low-carbon energy business models.
                    [post_title] => Paris 2015 - just a first step
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                    [post_content] => The European Union has decided its energy and climate goals for 2030, becoming the first major player in the international climate negotiations to make a commitment in advance of next year’s United Nations climate conference in Paris. Europe has thus maintained its leadership role in terms of being the first mover, but no longer clearly in terms of ambition. The compromises needed to get agreement within the 28-country organisation have produced a 2030 emissions reduction target that is only barely consistent with the bottom end of the 80-95 per cent range of emission cuts that industrialised countries are aiming to achieve by mid-century. EU leaders have also decided on a future loosening of the policy framework that has been driving their national renewable energy and energy efficiency programmes. If the EU has decided to rely in the next decade primarily on the single target of emissions reduction to achieve progress, it must reform its chosen instrument – the Emissions Trading System – to deliver this target.
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                    [post_content] => On 2 June 2014 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its proposed performance standards to reduce CO2 emissions from existing power stations. In 2012, these stations accounted for about 38.5% of US energy-related CO2 emissions, chiefly from coal.  To date, the EPA proposal is the most substantial federal policy initiative aimed at reducing CO2 emissions in the US.  However, other developments will also influence CO2 emissions from the power sector. In this paper, David Robinson places the proposed EPA regulations into their wider political and sectorial context. He analyses four determinants of the demand for coal and gas in the power sector, as well as the resulting CO2 emissions: the relative price of coal and natural gas; electricity demand; renewable power; and EPA regulations.

There are four messages.  First, reductions in CO2 emissions from the US power sector are likely to be modest, at least from a European perspective. Coal and natural gas will together continue to provide over 60 per cent of US electricity until at least 2030.   Second, achieving EPA objectives for CO2 emissions reduction will be difficult, which partly explains why the targets are modest. There are barriers to reducing coal-based generation in the US, including the relatively low cost of coal and strong political support for coal in many states. Third, while the market share for natural gas will grow, its market in the power sector will be limited by rising natural gas prices, growth of renewables and flat or declining electricity demand.  Finally, absence of bipartisan support for federal action to tackle climate change raises doubts about the successful implementation of EPA regulations and weakens US credibility in global climate negotiations.
                    [post_title] => US climate change policy and the power sector
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                    [post_content] => Spain has earned a reputation for leadership in the development of renewables, especially wind and solar powered electricity. But draft legislation introduced last July is the latest in a series of regulatory reforms since 2010 that reduce revenues to existing renewable power generators and that end the previous system of support to new renewable generation. In this comment, David Robinson explains the background to the reform, which aims to stop the tariff deficit, which has reached €30 billion, from growing further. He argues that Spain’s problems in the electricity sector are an extreme and early reflection of structural problems related to EU energy and climate change policies.  Spain’s response addresses only the most visible evidence of the problems – the tariff deficit. However, the EU will soon need to address the bigger problems that lie beneath the surface.
                    [post_title] => Pulling the Plug on Renewable Power in Spain
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                    [post_content] => China's growing energy import dependence makes the economy more vulnerable to global energy market instability.  This is how the US felt after the Arab oil embargo.  Today, the US and China have reversed places.  China is now the world’s largest energy consumer and the country most dependent on energy imports, especially from the Middle East, while the US is on the way to becoming energy self-reliant.  How China deals with this will have a significant influence on global energy markets and climate change, and on international relations.  This set of slides examines China's energy demand, its growing reliance on energy imports and some possible implications for international energy markets and China's international relations.  The slides were presented to the Oil and Gas Network (NOG) in Stockholm in October 2013.
                    [post_title] => China's growing energy demand - some international implications
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                    [post_content] => On 25 June 2013, President Obama issued his Climate Action Plan.  This is his Administration’s best effort to tackle the issues, but it also reflects the inability to pass federal climate change legislation.  The absence of legislation will weaken US influence in key UNFCCC negotiations that are supposed to result in a global agreement by the end of 2015.  Furthermore, because the plan proposes regulations that are specific to individual technologies and even specific plants, it will raise the costs of tackling climate change in the US.  Indeed, delivering the most important measures in the President’s action plan will be slow and cannot be guaranteed. In particular, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) faces significant legal and political challenges to introduce carbon emission standards for existing coal-fired plants.  This uncertainty adds further to the costs of the proposed measures.

This may be the best that the President can do in the current political climate, but it is still disappointing from the perspective of the scale of the challenges.  Nevertheless, the plan defines a US agenda for action to deal with climate change.  It sends important signals to the rest of the world, and gives the EU a reason to put climate change back on the list of policy priorities.
                    [post_title] => President Obama’s Climate Action Plan
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                    [post_content] => The US has substantially reduced its reliance on imported fossil fuel energy. This trend towards "energy independence" is much debated and has important implications for the world and specifically for China. International and Chinese experts debated North American, and especially US, energy developments and their implications at a recent round table conference in Beijing.  The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies (OIES) and the Centre for International Energy and Environment Strategy Studies of Renmin University (CIEESS) organised the conference, with the support of the British Embassy in Beijing. Dr David Robinson (OIES) and Dr. Xu Qinhua(CIEESS) summarise the proceedings.
                    [post_title] => Implications for China of North American Energy Independence
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                    [post_content] => Spain is living with a high penetration of intermittent renewable power from wind and solar PV. Other EU electricity markets will soon have to do the same, if they are not already doing so. This Comment summarizes a number of the challenges facing Spain as a result of this form of de-carbonization, and also considers the implications for the EU.  For each of the challenges, the Comment suggests possible policy responses.  The Spanish case reveals the need for a fundamental revision of European wholesale electricity markets to reflect the cost structures of de-carbonised  power.  It also highlights the need to reconsider European policies on climate change to enable markets to support innovation in low carbon technologies.
                    [post_title] => Living with Intermittent Renewable Power - Challenges for Spain and the EU
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                    [post_date] => 2013-03-04 10:53:46
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                    [post_content] => There is a potential opening for federal climate change legislation in the US, but the political reality is against its passage in this Congress. This comment reviews President Obama's plans to address climate change, as expressed in his recent State of the Union Address. It concludes that, if climate change legislation cannot be passed, the federal government will adopt a series of regulatory measures (e.g. through the EPA), with uncertain implications for overall emissions, and that the US will not be in a strong position to convince other countries to act decisively to combat climate change. It also identifies the conditions that might eventually allow federal legislation to be passed.
                    [post_title] => US Energy and Climate Change Policy - Obama's Second Term
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                    [post_date] => 2012-11-09 16:27:45
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                    [post_content] => Governments across the OECD are committed to ambitious reductions in CO2 emissions.  Electricity is central to this agenda as the sector where the earliest and steepest cuts will be sought.  A number of countries, like the UK, are already in the process of reforming their electricity markets in order to ensure the delivery of the huge quantities of low carbon investment which will be needed; these reforms have involved a more central role for the government in decision-making, and in underwriting investments.  The paper considers whether the role of market forces is inevitably going to be increasingly limited by the existence of rigorous environmental targets, and examines a number of  options which could still leave a significant degree of competition.  It also looks at the wider changes which will accompany decarbonisation of the sector, for instance the increasing importance of the demand-side and the need for further  changes in wholesale market structures.  It concludes that governments need to address the wide range of issues involved in a coherent manner and at an early stage if the process of decarbonisation is to be undertaken successfully.
                    [post_title] => Decarbonisation of the electricity sector – is there still a place for markets?
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                    [post_content] => This report was supported by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Prosperity Fund for Latin America. It examines the feasibility of private investment in wind power in Colombia within the current regulatory framework.  It focuses especially on the regulatory methodology for estimating the "firm energy" that wind power plants are capable of providing in Colombia to back up hydro generation during extended periods of drought (El Niño weather events).  Our conclusion is that the current methodology probably underestimates wind's firm energy contribution, possibly by a substantial amount. This in turn means that wind power stations receive a lower firm energy payment than they should.  We consider this to be an important barrier to investment in wind power in Colombia. We recommend that the Colombian Government reconsider their methodology for estimating the firm energy capacity of wind power and of other (non hydro) sources of renewable power.
                    [post_title] => Private Investment in Wind Power in Colombia
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                    [post_content] => The objective of this Report is to explore the potential for addressing developing country greenhouse gas emissions at scale through bilateral ‘Joint Commitment Framework Agreements’ (JCFA). It focuses on the potential to reduce the growth of coal-based emissions in the Chinese power sector through large-scale collaboration between European and Chinese enterprises in the production of electricity from wind. The Report examines the proposition that under a Sino-European JCFA European companies will be more likely to collaborate with Chinese enterprises to transfer and develop low carbon technologies and know-how that will help to achieve jointly agreed carbon emission reductions in the Chinese power sector.
                    [post_title] => Addressing Large Developing Country Emissions: The case for strategic Sino-European collaboration under joint commitments
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                    [post_content] => US energy and climate change legislation will have a powerful influence on any global agreement replacing the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. Dr. David Robinson analyzes draft US legislation (specifically the Waxman Markey Bill) and argues that it will fail to promote an early transition to a low carbon economy mainly due to its exaggerated efforts to smooth the transition for the coal industry and its customers. He proposes amendments to the draft legislation.
                    [post_title] => US Energy and Climate Legislation – The Big Deal
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            [post_content] => With the Paris COP in sight, the Spanish Gas Association (Sedigas) interviewed David Robinson on his views about the objectives of the COP, what to expect from that meeting and what the remaining challenges were likely to be. They were especially interested in the role of natural gas in addressing the challenges of climate change, the prospects for natural gas in Europe and Spain, and the strategic challenges facing the natural gas industry in the region. The interview was recently published in the Sedigaz journal in Gas Actual . This is a revised version in English.
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