Mineral and Energy Economics Research Projects

Featured Projects

Population Dynamics Thrust of the Integrated Multi-Sector, Multi-Scale Modeling (IM​ 3​ ) Scientific Focus Area

- Dr. Jared Carbone

Dr. Jared Carbone was awarded a U.S. Department of Energy grant in an interdisciplinary collaboration with researchers at NCAR, NREL, and PNNL, among others. Read morePDF versionText only version


A Look Upstream: Market Restructuring, Risk, Procurement Contracts and Efficiency

-Dr. Ian Lange

Dr. Ian Lange's co-authored paper investigates the consequences of electricity market deregulation and how it impacts coal mining productivity.

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Oil Price Shocks and Canada's Economic Performance
Jared Carbone and Kenneth Mackenzie at the University of Calgary investigate the broader economic impacts on Canada of significant changes in world oil prices.

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Energy Efficiency in Tradable Performance Standards

Professor Harrison Fell and his co-authors look at the crediting standards for energy efficiency projects – an important element of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.


Drilling Down the Bakken Learning Curve

-PhD Student Mike Redlinger

PhD student Mike Redlinger analyzes improvements in horizontal drilling within the Bakken Shale Play in northwestern North Dakota and northeastern Montana.  

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How Do We Count Nega-watts- Energy Efficiency in Tradable Performance Standards
-Harrison Fell, Dan Kaffine and Dan Steinberg

Professor Harrison Fell’s work (with Dan Kaffine and Dan Steinberg) looks at crediting of energy efficiency project, so-called "nega-watts", within the context of tradable performance standards in the electricity market. This is of particular importance as energy efficiency will likely be incorporated in many states' plans to comply with the EPA's Clean Power Plan.

Determining the success of carbon capture and storage projects
-Ian Lange and Dominique Thronicker (University of Stirling)

The International Energy Agency says Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) will be a key technology for meeting greenhouse gas goals. However, we do not have a systematic understanding of what makes CCS projects successful. Despite much effort into the development and demonstration of the technology in recent years, the number of CCS projects that are currently operational has fallen short of what is needed for CCS to be part of an abatement portfolio. Globally, over a quarter of CCS projects have been postponed, put on hold or cancelled altogether. However, there are also successfully operational CCS projects. Thus determining whether there are systemic characteristics that render CCS projects more likely to become operational while others are more likely to fail is important for CCS to reach its potential. A unique dataset that combines project information from various online CCS databases and contains all integrated CCS projects attempted globally, irrespective of sector, size or project outcome is utilized to uncover the factors associated with success.

We find that identification of the carbon dioxide (CO2) storage site as part of the planning process and a storage site with commercial benefit is significantly correlated to project success likelihood. This result is concerning given that non-commercial saline reservoirs account for by far the largest share of geological storage capacity. The choice of capture technologies is important. Post- and oxyfuel combustion are less likely to succeed than in other capture processes, such as pre-combustion, natural gas processing or industrial separation.

Past experience with CCS projects is negatively correlated to CCS project success. This result is surprising initially but less so when considering that less experienced investors are more likely to continue projects after it is clear they are unprofitable relative to experienced investors. Likewise initially surprising is the finding that public funding is not positively related to project success likelihood. A possible explanation for this result is that governments might look for marginally profitable investments to subsidize (allowing the private sector to finance projects expected to be profitable) or the potential for adverse selection in which projects are put forward by firms for public funding. However, we lack detailed funding data to fully explore which explanation fits better. Working PaperPDF versionText only version

Optimal Resilient Power Grid Operation during the Course of a Progressing Wildfire
-Steffen Rebennack (CSM) and Salman Mohagheghi (CSM)

Wildfires are natural phenomena that play a crucial role in many forest and grassland ecosystems. Under favorable conditions, i.e., extreme heat, availability of fuel, and high winds, they may spread beyond control and approach city limits. Power lines are vulnerable to wildfires in their vicinity, mainly due to increased conductor temperatures as a result of ambient temperature rising. This may lead to conductor annealing and/or increased sag. A violation of safety clearances of the lines could in turn lead to possible flashovers, and onset of cascading failures.
To address the situation, the operator may dynamically alter the ratings of the lines in the affected areas in order to reduce the flow of current through them, thereby assisting with conductor cooling. However, with reduced line capacities, the utility may not be able to supply all the loads from the main substation anymore. A solution is put forth in this research that enables the system operator to dispatch distributed generators, demand responsive loads, and Microgrids in order to supply loads under such emergency conditions. Due to the uncertain spread/severity of wildfires, the problem is stochastic in nature, and is therefore modeled as a two-stage stochastic optimization problem. First stage decision variables determine the reserves to be purchased before the onset of the event, while second stage decision variables represent operation setpoints. The efficiency of the proposed solution is demonstrated via two case studies.

Climate Policy and Competitiveness: Policy Guidance and Quantitative Evidence
-Jared C. Carbone, Colorado School of Mines, and Nicholas Rivers, University of Ottawa

When considering adoption of a domestic climate change policy, politicians and the public frequently refer to concerns about competitiveness. Competitiveness in this context does not have a precise economic definition, referring variously to changes in employment, output, exports and well-being.  In a project sponsored by Environment Canada, Dr. Carbone and Dr. Rivers discuss possible ways to anchor the concept of competitiveness in economic analysis. This framework then serves as the basis of a systematic survey the literature on the quantitative impacts of unilateral climate change policy derived from the results of computable general equilibrium (or CGE) models, the simulation models most often used by economists to evaluate these policies.  They provide empirical estimates of the magnitude of competitiveness effects that might be associated with the adoption of unilateral climate change policies and an analysis of the key assumptions driving results produced by different models.  Working PaperPDF versionText only version

Carbon policy and the Structure of Global Trade
- Dr. Ed Balistreri, Dr. Christoph Bohringer (University of Oldenburg), Dr. Thomas Rutherford (University of Wisconsin)

Alternative perspectives on the structure of international trade have important implications for climate policy and its interaction with global markets.  Under this project professors Edward J. Balistreri  (Colorado School of Mines), Christoph Bohringer (University of Oldenburg), and Thomas F. Rutherford (University of Wisconsin) are considering carbon policy in the context of three widely applied, yet distinct trade theories.  These structures are shown to have important implications for measures of carbon leakage and the spatial distribution of energy-intensive production.  Furthermore, predictions about the transmission of carbon policy burdens to non-participating countries are critically dependent on the assumed structure of trade.  It is shown that the structure of contemporary policy simulation models might significantly understate the importance of international markets in undermining subglobal climate action. 

Policy Labels and Investments Decision-making: The Effect of the Winter Fuel Payment on Renewable Installation
- Dr. Ian Lange, Dr. Mirko Moro (University of Stirling) and Dr. Mohammad Rahman

Recent evidence suggests that labeling of unconditional cash transfers (food stamps, etc) leads recipients to spend more on the labeled good. This research shows that the Winter Fuel Payment (WFP), a transfer in the UK meant to help older households stay warm in the winter, has distortionary effects on the market for renewable technologies. Although the WFP does not require households to spend the cash benefit on energy, households in receipt of the WFP are statistically less likely to invest in renewable energy technologies, such as solar water heaters, solar panels and micro wind turbines. This is because the WFP name appears to encourage households to use fuel, rather than investing the payment in renewable energy technologies

Since WFP eligibility is based on the date at which a member of the household turns 60 years, and because the WFP is not means-tested, it is possible to compare households who just missed eligibility with those that are only recently eligible. Information on household characteristics such as employment status and income were also controlled for. To ensure that differences in renewable energy installations were attributable to the WFP name, researchers further looked for changes in the propensity to purchase other durable goods. No change in investing in a new kitchen or car was found between those in receipt of the WFP and those not, while there was a clear negative shift in the probability of installing renewable solar or wind technologies.

Keeping older citizens warm in winter could still be achieved by nudging people towards cleaner or more efficient energy sources. Perhaps a benefit name that includes the words ‘renewable energy’ or ‘energy efficiency’ would ensure that households consider more energy efficient technologies while still achieving the health goals of the current WFP policy. Working PaperPDF versionText only version

What’s killing coal? The effects of natural gas abundance and renewables on coal-fired plants
- Dr. Harrison Fell (CSM) and Dr. Daniel T. Kaffine (CU-Boulder)

Since 2007, coal-fired electricity generation in the US has declined by a stunning 25%. At the same time, natural gas-fired generation and wind generation have dramatically increased due to technological advances and policy interventions. We examine the joint impact of natural gas prices and wind generation on coal generation, with a particular focus on the interaction between low natural gas prices and increased wind generation. Exploiting detailed daily unit-level data, we estimate the response of coal-fired generation across six transmission regions within the US. We find that low natural gas prices and increased wind generation have both led to reductions in coal-fired generation. Furthermore, we find evidence that the interaction between natural gas prices and wind generation is statistically and economically significant, and led to a greater reduction in coal-fired generation than would be explained by either factor alone. For example, in the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO) region, the reduction in 2013 capacity factors of coal-fired plants due to low natural gas prices was twice as large with wind generation at 2013 levels compared to the case where wind generation stayed at 2008 levels. Similarly, in the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) region, had natural gas prices remained at 2008 levels, wind generation in 2013 would have reduced coal capacity factors by an inconsequential 0.1 percentage point; however, with natural gas prices at 2013 levels, wind generation reduced capacity factors by 4 percentage points. As a result, policies such as carbon pricing combined with increased renewable portfolio standards would be complimentary in terms of their impact on coal-fired generation.

 Mining and Energy in Central America
- Dr. Graham Davis

Mining and oil production is a relatively minor component of Central America's economies. Yet, as exploration success in the more traditional regions of the world decreases mining and oil companies are looking at Central America as a target for production.Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, and Honduras have all seen mining or oil production increase in the past decade. Central America's extant laws regarding exploration for and production of mining and oil are in most cases outdated and ill-suited for the current world order. In a research project coordinated by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), Professor Graham Davis is collaborating with researchers from several Central American countries to plot a path forward regarding public policy for mining and oil production. The final product will be a book co-authored with the IADB's Regional Economic Advisor for Central America, Dr. Osmel Manzano.

Recycling, Solid Waste, and Public Policy
 - Dr. Dan Kaffine (Co-PI, research lead), Dr. Rod Eggert (Co-PI), Dr. John Tilton (Co-PI), Dr. Edward Balistreri, Dr. Michael Heeley
Project website 

It has been more than two decades since the modern era of recycling and waste disposal began. This research project, generously funded by the Alcoa Foundation, examines the intersection between public policy and waste and recycling. Specific, on-going projects look at incorporating greenhouse gas emissions into waste and recycling policy-decision models, impacts of carbon pricing on aluminum production and recycling activities, trends in generation and recovery of municipal solid waste, optimal recycling rates of different materials, impacts of waste and recycling policies on secondary scrap markets, and drivers of recycling innovation. It is hoped that the outputs from these projects will provide policymakers with new insights and policy guidance in the selection of waste and recycling management approaches.

An Examination of the Mine Value Curve (Sponsor: Denham Capital Management LP)
 - Dr. Graham Davis

There is a belief amongst those in the mining industry that individual project share prices follow a fairly regular path as the project moves from exploration through to production. This price path at first rises, then falls once the major drilling results are in, and then rises again as the project moves towards production. Asset pricing dictates that such a price curve cannot be sustained, as investors would sell at the peak and buy at the trough, causing the curve to migrate towards one that has price increasing at the required rate of discount. This project seeks to explore whether such a curve actually exists, and if so, how it can be sustained given what appears to be trading strategies that would destroy the curve.

Replicating Sachs and Warner
 - Dr. Graham Davis

In 1997 Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Warner published the first of a series of empirical papers examining what has come to be called the Resource Curse. These papers have been cited thousands of times, have influenced development and industrial policies, and are the basis for many extensions and reexaminations of the Resource Curse theory. To my knowledge the papers have never been replicated, and so I undertook a program of research to do just that. I find that most of the regression results can be replicated, but that in some cases Sachs and Warner's policy conclusions are based on erroneous interpretations of the regression coefficients. In a 2011 paper called The Resource Drag I also show that their early work suffered from omitted variable bias, and that once this bias is corrected there may no longer be a Resource Curse.

- John T. Cuddington
- Co-Author: Abdel M. Zellou

A number of authors have claimed that the strong upward movement in commodity prices since 2000 represents the early phase of a ‘super cycle’ driven by industrialization and urbanization in Brazil, Russia, India and China (the so-called BRIC countries), especially China. These super cycles are defined as long cycles of, say, 20-70 years in length – including both the expansion and contraction phases. These cycles, therefore, are much longer in duration than business cycles, typically defined as 2-8 or 2-10 years and their underlying causes are different. Heap (2005), Cuddington and Jerrett (2008) and Jerrett and Cuddington (2008) have provided empirical evidence consistent with the presence of super cycles in the prices of LME and a number of other metals. Moreover, the super cycle expansions match the timing of earlier industrialization episodes in Europe, the U.S., and Japan. Evidence on the presence of super cycles in energy commodities should be valuable for national and state governments, financial institutions and oil and gas companies alike. At the government level, countries that rely on the import or export of energy commodities need to take into account the presence of super cycles in energy commodity in order to define appropriate sectoral and development policies. At the firm level, the exploration-development-production-distribution-research-and-development cycle of energy projects often spans several decades, as do super cycles. Hence the investment decision made by oil and gas companies should be informed by the possible presence and timing of both long-term trends, super cycles, and business cycle movements in real energy prices. Our current research has an empirical and an analytical or theoretical component. On the empirical front, we ask whether there is evidence of super cycle behavior in energy commodities. On the theoretical front, we are attempting to build simple models capable of producing super cycle behavior. A summary of the two parts of the research follows.

On the one hand, the underlying demand drivers of super cycles should presumably hold for energy as well as non-energy minerals. On the other hand, the market structure of the global oil market is much different than the markets for, say, copper, aluminum, tin and zinc. Coal, in contrast, has been characterized by regional rather than an international market due to higher transport to product value ratio. In Zellou and Cuddington (2011), we examine the empirical evidence for super cycles in crude oil prices. The evidence is mixed with apparent SCs during some, but not all, historical episodes where metal price super cycles seem to have occurred. Possible reasons for this include domestic oil price regulations and oligopolistic market structure of the global oil industry. Our current research is looking for SCs in coal prices. Our empirical approach follows Cuddington and Jerrett. Specifically, we apply the asymmetric Christiano-Fitzgerald band-pass filter to real crude oil prices from 1861 to 2010 and to real coal prices from 1800 to 2009 to extract trend and super cycle components. We then examine the super cycle components in our energy commodity prices to see if they are similar in timing to those found in metals prices by Cuddington and Jerrett. Our preliminary analysis detects super cycles in energy commodity prices, with a strong correlation between the super cycles of coal and oil prices after World War II. The super cycle analysis is carried out using both nominal and real prices in order to determine whether these super cycles are an artifact of movements in the price deflator used (the U.S. CPI). We identify four super cycles in oil prices since 1861. These results are consistent with the recent work by Dvir and Rogoff (2009) on the changes in real oil price persistence and volatility.

The analytical portion of our research is focused on developing a prototypical supply-demand model for a mineral / nonrenewable commodity. It embodies important distinctions between short-run and long-run mineral supply and the derived demand for minerals as intermediate goods in production sectors with differing intensities of use. This framework is used to address the question: under what conditions might one expect to observe super cycles (i.e. cycles with a period of 20-70 years) in minerals prices? We specify a plausible time path for growth and the structural transformation that accompanies economic development. Using these drivers and reasonable supply and demand parameters, price dynamics are simulated. The result is an asymmetric price cycle with a peak price that is about 200% above trend and an expansion phase that lasts for about 20 years. Thus, this simple model is capable of producing cycles of super cycle frequency with similar amplitudes to those estimated in the empirical literature. 
Our initial effort has been to build a simple global model, without regional disaggregation. Our follow-on work will consider multiple regions at different stages of economic development. 

The Terms of Trade Debate: Implications for Primary Product Producers
-Dr. John E. Tilton

The terms of trade debate initiated by Raul Prebisch and Hans Singer over half a century ago continues to this day, and is unlikely to be resolved soon. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, however, to suggest that countries should diversify away from the production of mineral commodities and other primary products, as Prebisch, Singer, and others have done, may be counterproductive, encouraging countries to abandon their most promising path to faster economic development.

This is because the long-run trends in the real prices of most goods reflect shifts in their market supply curves and in turn production costs. If the prices of primary products are falling but a country’s production costs are falling more, the producer surplus or wealth the country realizes is rising, increasing the benefits it receives from its primary product production and trade. Alternatively, if prices are rising but a country’s costs are rising more, the benefits from primary product production and trade are presumably falling despite the higher primary product prices.

This largely conceptual analysis will eventually be submitted for publication to a professional journal.

Material Efficiency: An Economic Perspective
-Dr. John E. Tilton
-Co-Author: Patrik Söderholm (Luleå University of Technology)

This work presents an economic perspective of material efficiency, and discusses the role of public policy in providing market incentives for a more efficient use of materials. In doing so, it comments on the engineering approach to material efficiency presented in an article that Allwood and others published in 2011 in Resources, Conservation and Recycling. We argue that concerns over potential future resource scarcities do not represent a strong motive for introducing policies to foster greater material efficiency but that various environmental externalities and information failures in the relevant material markets do. Moreover, in such instances, policy makers should opt for regulatory measures that target the relevant market failures (e.g., environmental damages) as closely as possible. This normally means avoiding policies that directly encourage specific material efficiency options. Policy measures that instead address particular environmental problems and information externalities will enhance material efficiency in a more effective manner. This is because ex ante it is difficult for policy makers to know in what ways and by how much to alter material production and use.

The World of Metals: Understanding the Behavior of Metal Markets and Industries
-Dr. John E. Tilton

This book project, which draws on my research and teaching over the past 30 years, aims to provide an overview for the interested non-specialist of how metal industries and markets operate and why they behave as they do.

The first half of the book, which is largely finished, examines the nature of metal demand and supply over both the short and long runs. Here among other things it looks at material substitution, recycling and secondary production, as well as by-product and co-product production. It then focuses on mineral markets and prices, and in particular why metal prices are so volatile in the short run, and why for many metals they have been falling in real terms over the long run. The recent rise in metal prices is also be examined, including the issue of whether this upturn reflects just another cyclical fluctuation or a reversal in the long-run downward trend in real prices. The first half of the book finishes by exploring international metal trade.

The second half will address a number of important policy issues associated with metal production and use. These include: the long-run threat posed by mineral depletion; the resource curse, or more generally the relationship between mineral wealth and the economic development of producing countries; the nature of the economic rents associated with mining and their distribution among mining companies, host governments, local communities, and other interested parties; and finally a host of issues related to mining and sustainable development, including the intergeneration equity and environmental and other social costs arising from mining and metal use. 

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Last Updated: 08/04/2017 08:23:15