Economic Aspects of the Energy Transition

22 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2020 Last revised: 7 Oct 2022

See all articles by Geoffrey M. Heal

Geoffrey M. Heal

Columbia University - Columbia Business School, Finance; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: September 2020


I make three points relating to the transition from fossil fuels to non-carbon energy. One is that the economic cost of moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy in electricity generation is very low, and probably lower than many estimates of the economic benefits from this change. The second is that, if it were to move the economy away from fossil fuels and from oil in particular, a carbon tax would have to be much great than generally believed, in the range of $400 per ton CO2 or above. Finally, decarbonization of the economy implies electrification, the replacement of fossil fuels by electricity in for example space heating. Currently electricity is far too expensive for this to be politically realistic: this is because its price does not reflect its marginal cost but this plus a wide range of fixed costs that are recovered in the per kilowatt hour charge. If we are to electrify the economy then the price of electricity will need to be nearer to its marginal cost, which raises questions about the business models of utilities.

Suggested Citation

Heal, Geoffrey M., Economic Aspects of the Energy Transition (September 2020). NBER Working Paper No. w27766, Available at SSRN:

Geoffrey M. Heal (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Columbia Business School, Finance ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States
212-854-6459 (Phone)
212-316-9219 (Fax)


National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics