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Published in: Public Choice 3-4/2022

06-10-2022

From Airbnb to solar: electricity market platforms as local sharing economies

Authors: Alexander Theisen, Lynne Kiesling, Michael Munger

Published in: Public Choice | Issue 3-4/2022

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Abstract

Distributed energy resource (DER) technologies such as rooftop solar change the structure of production and consumption in the electricity industry. These changes will be mediated by digital platforms in ways that will sharply decrease scale economy entry barriers in generation, making local generation and self-supply not only possible but economically competitive. Digitally-enabled platform business models and local electricity markets are increasingly part of policy debates in electricity distribution and retail due to the proliferation of digital and DER technologies. Here we propose a two-stage model to represent the effects of transaction cost-reducing innovation on two aspects of such transactions: gains from trade in sharing, and the ability to express and satisfy heterogeneous, subjective preferences in a poly-centric system. Our core insight is that excess capacity varies inversely with transaction costs; digital platform technologies and business models enable asset owners to rent out this excess capacity. We analyze the equilibrium comparative statics of the model to derive observable predictions, and find that having a local electricity market platform option makes the opportunity cost of excess capacity economically relevant. As small- scale transactions in energy capacity become more feasible, our results suggest that ownership of DER capacity will be driven less by one’s expected intensity of use and more by relative price concerns and subjective preferences for energy self-sufficiency or environmental attributes.

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Footnotes
1
Between July 2014 and July 2020, monthly small-scale solar PV generation in the U.S. increased by 287 percent (US Energy Information Administration, Net Generation for Small-Scale Photovoltaic). In 2021 distributed residential solar accounted for 500,000 projects and 4.2 gigawatts (GW) of new installed generation capacity in the U.S., a 30 percent increase over 2020 (SEIA, 2021). The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that the cost per watt of installed residential solar has fallen 61 percent since 2010 (Fu et al., 2017, p. vi). By 2019, residential small-scale generation accounted for 20,914,000 megawatt hours (MWh), compared ith 17,105,000 MWh in 2018, a 22 percent increase (Energy Information Administration, 2020, Table 3.21). Electric vehicles, which provide both transportation and energy storage, have grown from almost 18,000 sales in 2011 to nearly 1.5 million sales in 2019 (Zhou, 2021).
 
2
A household, a microgrid, or an LEM might be a buyer in the afternoon, and a seller at night, in the same 24-h period. It is important to note that the margins that distinguish “buy/use/store/sell” are small, and in the absence of a market platform, transaction costs are enough to prevent the local commodification of excess capacity entirely. Availability of this opportunity to monetize excess capacity may induce more homeowners to buy DERs, or to install more capacity, yielding both lower greenhouse gases and a more resilient distribution system. Finally, the capacity for distributed storage eases peak-load constraints, and increases redundancy when resources are strained by natural disasters or weather problems. Some demonstration projects are currently testing such a decentralized local market platform, including the Brooklyn microgrid project (Mengelkamp et al., 2018), a peer-to-peer market pilot project in Portugal (Pires-Klein et al., 2019), and a variety of local electricity market pilot projects in Europe (Vale et al., 2021).
 
3
Rather than imagining the consumer doing all of the search and information gathering and maintenance, think of this market as a retail market in which consumers purchase energy management services from retail energy service providers, and those services include facilitating and managing their market participation – an example of how falling transaction costs lead to emergence of new markets, products, and services.
 
4
Borenstein (2017) also finds that the income distribution of solar owners was heavily skewed toward wealthier homeowners, with that skew decreasing over time. These income effects are beyond the scope of our current analysis, but it suggests that at high prices conversion to solar is a luxury good. Thus while claims are often made about the appeal of “green” energy as “social justice,” the actual impact may have more to do with “cronyist” forms of public policy (Munger and Villarreal-Diaz, 2019).
 
5
The GridWise Olympic Peninsula Testbed Demonstration Project was the first field experiment testing automated price-response aspects of transactive energy (Chassin and Kiesling, 2008).
 
6
The literature connecting platforms and two-sided markets is extensive. See Rochet and Tirole (2003), Parker and Van Alstyne (2005), Rysman (2009), Yu et al. (2015); Einav et al. (2016), Farranato and Fradkin (2016) and Hagin and Wright (2015). Parag and Sovacool (2016) survey market design issues in “the prosumer era” in electricity, where producers and consumers may be the same entity at different points in even relatively short time periods. Kalathil et al. (2016) model three categories of sharing in electric systems: sharing excess energy generated from rooftop solar PV installations, sharing of demand flexibility through dispatchable reductions in demand, and sharing energy storage capacity. Our model complements theirs by focusing on “sharing” in terms of commodification of excess capacity in a rooftop solar PV installation, and storage capacity. Tabors, et al. (2017) propose a digital platform market design taking into account locational pricing to account for the spatial characteristics and effects of DER in distribution networks. Morstyn et al. (2018) propose a peer-to-peer market design in which prosumers self-organize into “federated” virtual power plants. Eisen and Mormann (2018) provide a model institutional design for digital, decentralized electricity markets, informed by recent legal decisions. Brown and Sappington (2018) point out that there are important strategic considerations in allocating the benefits of cost-sharing. 
 
7
Our analysis abstracts from the institutional details regarding ownership of the distribution grid, whether vertically integrated with the retail provider or operating as an independent wires company. In either case we assume that agents will be able to complete physical delivery of their transactions via the distribution grid.
 
8
Notice that this normalization to 1 collapses a time dimension; the price of grid services should be seen as the price of buying the same amount of energy from the grid as the asset would generate over the course of its entire lifetime of use, turning the choice of energy consumption into a fundamentally static problem. While abstracting from an important aspect of reality, this modeling choice allows us to focus on the decision of whether to buy or own at a single point in time, and use comparative statics for analyzing changes over time in later sections. These considerations matter for interpreting our assumption of quasi-linearity, as well, given that intertemporal choices are implicitly incorporated into our price/money variable.
 
9
We suppress y from the problem since an owner will never choose a positive value of y, given α > 0, and we also use r to denote energy sold/solar capacity rented, with a slight abuse of notation.
 
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Metadata
Title
From Airbnb to solar: electricity market platforms as local sharing economies
Authors
Alexander Theisen
Lynne Kiesling
Michael Munger
Publication date
06-10-2022
Publisher
Springer US
Published in
Public Choice / Issue 3-4/2022
Print ISSN: 0048-5829
Electronic ISSN: 1573-7101
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-022-00985-3

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