Ideas for growth session 6: Energy

The Energy session, chaired by Michael Greenstone (MIT, IGC) discussed various energy issues, ranging from access for the poor to emission trading schemes. During the first session, Robin Burgess (LSE, IGC, JPAL) presented his latest research project titled ‘Lighting Up Bihar’ aims to increase energy access in Bihar, currently a high political priority in this state of India. As a matter of fact, the state of Bihar is planned a three-fold rise in electricity supply over the next three years. However, to do so, distribution will need to be improved. Solutions include better meter readers and financial incentives for bill collectors, all of which will be evaluated using a randomized experiment.

After the presentation of this promising research, we heard from Sandeep Poundrik (Secretary, Department of Energy, Bihar) who joined us via videoconference from Patna, India. Mr. Poundrik described the challenges involved in increased revenue collection for electricity suppliers, as well as the efforts made by the Government of Bihar to invest in the infrastructure necessary to increase reliability of and access to electricity. He engaged with the audience and answered questions related to incentive schemes, alternative technologies and most important problems encountered.

Michael Greenstone and Hardik Shah (Member of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board) then talked about new approaches to regulating pollution. They started off by explaining that balancing economic growth and a clean environment is a real challenge. Their project focused on developing a reliable source of information for regulators, as well as developing more effective penalties for emissions permits. As part of their study, Greenstone and Shah selected 1000 firms, and are gathering evidence on the emissions, abatement cost and regulatory impacts of trading. This project is ongoing and more concrete results will gradually be made available over the next three years.

Finally, Oluniyi Robbin-Coker (Minister of Energy, Sierra Leone) provided a comparative perspective of the energy access issues faced by Sierra Leone, offering a useful and revealing contrast to the bihari perspective. He described the energy section as having a highly limited capacity. Sierra Leone has a medium-term plan to achieve middle-income status by 2035; this will require a lot of private growth, which will necessitate better, more reliable energy infrastructure. Minister Robbin-Coker described Sierra Leone’s plan for reform, and raised awareness on the need to consider the political cycle when planning such reforms.