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Doesn't this:

the project now has a core group of backers and a signed agreement between 12 companies wanting to move forward with the $555 billion renewable energy belt.

contradict your point? $555 billion is a phenomenal sum (even for bankers.) But apparently it's being taken seriously as an investment.

Now - of course it would be more organised if the ECB decided to unclench its anal muscles and threw some cash around as a Keynesian investment. An international green energy program would create energy that would be owned by national governments, or the Euro region as a whole - or even the world - instead of by private investors who want everyone to pay them an investment tax.

And on a smaller scale the UK has been investing heavily in off-shore wind. So there's certainly some ability to do useful strategic investment.

Fusion, of course, continues to be a boondoggle with a 'real soon now' payback time - something that hasn't changed for more than fifty years now. The fusioneers replies say that it's going to cost $x billion just to build a single working reactor. Roll-out after that will take at least another decade, and may not be much cheaper than current fission nukes.

But I think your point isn't really so much about investment and strategy, as political dynamics. There's no standard narrative about social investment. There is a standard narrative about 'austerity'.

There was a short diary on dKos recently about someone's experience of domestic abuse. What's interesting is that over the last few decades there's now a standard narrative about what relationship abuse is, why it's bad, and how to recognise it.

But there is no equivalent - yet - for economic and political abuse. Which is a problem, because after Hayek, Thatcher and Reagan we have a political and economic culture which is systemically abusive to entire populations.

Sadism is built into the system. It's not even about counting beans or making cool new stuff - it's about a minority lying to, disrespecting, and beating down a majority until the majority becomes unable to imagine that some other political reality is possible.

Pointing out that it's very similar to relationship abuse - because it is, with many of the same features - makes it a personal experience for everyone, instead of an academic economic abstraction.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Apr 13th, 2012 at 06:29:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Doesn't this:

the project now has a core group of backers and a signed agreement between 12 companies wanting to move forward with the $555 billion renewable energy belt.

contradict your point? $555 billion is a phenomenal sum (even for bankers.) But apparently it's being taken seriously as an investment.

However, it is a private project (even if with EU and national government endorsements), and I maintain my opinion that it is primarily a means of greenwashing for the companies involved and actual construction will never reach the proclaimed scale.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Apr 13th, 2012 at 07:02:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
.. This depends a lot on how workable north africa looks to investors as an industrial  enviorment - Solar in the sahara has easily a full order of magnitude lower production costs per kwh than solar in europe does (ridiculusly low land costs, much higher annual insulation), and HVDC is shockingly cost effective, so selling power from north africa into european peak daytime demand looks like it ought to be a money maker. The schemes to store power with molten salts and whatever, not so much, but grabbing a big chunk of the the high-value peak demand market?
by Thomas on Fri Apr 13th, 2012 at 07:23:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the sahara has easily a full order of magnitude lower production costs per kwh than solar in europe

Do you have actual figures on that? I don't buy it. Land costs are only a small part of the costs in Europe already, and insolation is not an order of magnitude bigger, while you have to add transportation costs and a risk premium, and there is also the issue of getting new power lines laid across Europe (which is not solely an economic question, and even the economic part is not solely a money question).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Apr 13th, 2012 at 07:29:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Figures would require significant practical experience of building solar power stations in the sahaha, so no, this is "napkin" math. I am however reasonably sure that it is correct napkin math, because largescale greenfield solar is impractical and unacceptable both in europe, as it involves destroying farmland. The relevant cost diffrential is thus between that of rooftop work in europe and building in the desert.
Add the fact that the sahara gets 3-6 times the sun, and, well. At the point of production, 10 times cheaper is a conservative estimate.
The rights of way for the power grid upgrades are the biggest issue, but I think there are ways to solve this problem. First one that comes to mind is to pay the railroads for the right to run powerlines along tracks.
by Thomas on Sat Apr 14th, 2012 at 04:38:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
3-6 times the sun? That is... substantially in excess of the figures I have seen, which were in the 2-3 region.

And the biggest issue is probably the capital cost of grid expansion, because we cannot rely on it being funded at a sensible rate of < 5 % plus risk markup - we'll be looking at 10-15 % funding cost before you're done adding up all the bankster tribute.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Apr 14th, 2012 at 04:48:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This "bankster tribute" is another connected symptom of what I'm talking about... the religious notion that a project is purified by private funding, is a different stream of thought to the one I've identified, but it's part of the same big issue, I feel.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Apr 14th, 2012 at 05:02:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely. It is central to any understanding of the current crisis to understand the social function of the doctrine of 'sound finance' and the purifying power of private bank bid-ask spreads.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Apr 14th, 2012 at 05:42:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow. Kalecki nailed it.

Impressive to think that was written sixty years ago, but depressing it's not more widely known.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Apr 14th, 2012 at 06:50:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Considering what else was going on in the world sixty years ago, I find that less "impressive" and more "disconcerting," to be perfectly honest.

Here's hoping that this time around we can have the wartime inflation without the war.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Apr 14th, 2012 at 07:46:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Less important than 'what we have learned' is 'what we have forgotten' and why it was forgotten - Kalecki, Keynes, Fisher, Veblen, Pecora,....

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Apr 14th, 2012 at 02:25:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
largescale greenfield solar is impractical and unacceptable both in europe, as it involves destroying farmland

Farmland areas (where I don't support solar either) aren't the only surfaces available for large-scale solar farms. Dumps, former industrial or military facilities, dams, the roofs of large industrial facilities also provide for unhindered sunshine and ideal mirror position and economies of scale, and at least the last type also provides for shorter grid connection and zero real estate costs. (Note BTW that in Germany, the feed-in tariff for greenfield areas was discontinued at the end of 2009.) And the price differential between the smallest rooftop and the largest greenfield plant isn't that big, either: if you look at feed-in tariffs as benchmark, then around 36%.

the sahara gets 3-6 times the sun

According to maps here, even most of England, Denmark and Southern Sweden get between 900 and 1,100 kWh/m² a year, while in the Mediterranean, you get between 1,500 and 2,000 kWh/m² at most places. You don't get better than the latter in Tunisia and northern Algeria, but the bulk of the Sahara is in the 2,000-2,500 kWh/m² range.

All in all, the factor is more like 1-3 times, with 3 times only if you compare Edinburgh and the Libyan-Egyptian-Sudanese border region. So if you build a multi-megawatt PV plant in Egypt to supply some mine locally and put panels on a privater home in Edinburgh, then the price per kWh differential will be about 4 times; but if you compare a plant in Andalusia and one in Tunisia both supplying Europe, the latter will have no benefits at all in production and all the disadvantage in grid connection and risk premium.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Apr 14th, 2012 at 08:46:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the feed-in tariff for greenfield areas was discontinued

I mean farmland areas.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Apr 14th, 2012 at 09:14:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Tarrifs are not an accurate measure of the diffrential in cost - rooftop work carries quite a substantial premium and is slow - and that will make up an ever increasing fraction of the total cost of an installation as the price of the solar cells themselves drop. The only way rooftop solar ever gets cheap is if the cells are integrated into a standard roofing tile, and put up when a roof needs (re)building regardless, because in that scenario, the marginal labour cost of the installation will be very close to zero (not actually zero, as someone will have to hook up an inverter, but as a faction of the total cost of putting up a roof, zero is a good approximation)

still, the big advantage sahara solar has over european solar is that is not subject to seasonal variation that is directly oppositional to seasonal varation in demand. Winter always comes, winter always wants kwhs.

by Thomas on Sat Apr 14th, 2012 at 10:30:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Surely this has already been posted, but if not:

http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/23602

70 MW of solar cells, in Japan, covering 314 acres (127 hectares)

by asdf on Sun Apr 15th, 2012 at 11:18:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
grabbing a big chunk of the the high-value peak demand market?

Speaking of that, solar indeed does a nice job of that already, to the extent of pricing out some peaker plant projects, and lately even intermediate regime coal. Here is the power graph for today from the Leipzig Energy Exchange:

(Left is actual production, right is the prediction, yellow is solar and green is wind.) Having looked at this graph on several days now, I am thinking that for an even better fit with the diurnal cycle (that is the morning bump), the import from far away that would do good would be along the east-west axis.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Apr 13th, 2012 at 04:17:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, 555 among 12 partnes is less than 80 per partner which is Metatone's limit.

There are three stories about the euro crisis: the Republican story, the German story, and the truth. -- Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Apr 13th, 2012 at 07:24:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good strong analogy.

I'll take it a step further. asdf posted his belief in a potential social/environmental breakdown. Should this occur, and i believe strongly in the possibility, it's because of abuse of the relationship between humans and the world around them.

In this diary we're discussing the potential for investment, perhaps on a grand scale, which actually serves society. What if we could fund fusion, or breeders? What if we could fund north African HVDC solar?

We're asking this of a society which shits in its own bed. Poisons its water. Creates earthquakes through fracking. Expands lethal factory farming from the developed world to the developing. Creates virulent bacteria from overuse of anti-bacterials in all manner of ways.

I just read that the artificial colors applied to nails of the female of the species has proven to be highly cancerous, and many ingredients are already banned in Europe for other uses... for just one of a thousand arcane examples of a society out of balance.

Hell (Babel), you can't even have a decent debate anymore, what with the ability of constant media propaganda, highly efficient at that, bombarding the naive senses.

We live in a world where advanced understanding is ridiculed, including what's known as spiritual understanding but which could now easily be called advanced scientific understanding.

The evidence is there for the reading, that this is an ill society, getting more ill daily, all the while a large minority understands the illness very clearly.

And we ask this society to make some hard choices about necessary technologies and how to fund them?

This society doesn't even understand what it's already funded and produced.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anas Nin

by Crazy Horse on Fri Apr 13th, 2012 at 07:10:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What if we could fund XXXXX?

We could but we have, on a societal level, been convinced that we cannot. TPTB that have control of the inputs to public opinion and the outputs of the mass media want to discredit the use of government for any purpose other than as air cover for their ongoing looting. And awareness of THAT is especially something that they do not want to gain further currency.

It is only the disfunctional attitudes that have been sold successfully to the public on behalf of the looters that stop us from doing all that we want and need to do. The only real solution is to get the looters in jail. There is little doubt that they are, as a class and individually, guilty of many felonies. Here. But their capture of the system is so complete that they are not prosecuted.

Just because it is old news does not mean that it is not still vital to any solution.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Apr 13th, 2012 at 09:30:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:

Fusion, of course, continues to be a boondoggle with a 'real soon now' payback time - something that hasn't changed for more than fifty years now. The fusioneers replies say that it's going to cost $x billion just to build a single working reactor. Roll-out after that will take at least another decade, and may not be much cheaper than current fission nukes.

coudn't agree more... if you add all the $ invested this last half century, and those currently requested, we'll see solar/wind has made an economic end-run around around this phantom technology.

ThatBritGuy:

There's no standard narrative about social investment. There is a standard narrative about 'austerity'.

when was there ever a standard narrative about social investment? FDR's new deal?

ThatBritGuy:

Sadism is built into the system. It's not even about counting beans or making cool new stuff - it's about a minority lying to, disrespecting, and beating down a majority until the majority becomes unable to imagine that some other political reality is possible.

Pointing out that it's very similar to relationship abuse - because it is, with many of the same features - makes it a personal experience for everyone, instead of an academic economic abstraction.

this is so powerfully true... if not worth a diary (it is!), it would make a great book subject, seeing how you write.

nations as abusers is nothing new, but abuse of their own populace has perhaps never attained such a virulence as presently, never have so many fallen into 'learned helplessness' as now.

we are all as lab rats, and our researchers have no more use for us unless to practice self-interested cruelty upon, now the growth-a-gogo years are winding down ever faster.

the force of their assumption that we'll stay laying down under it is the bluff that is begging to be called.

once people realise they are the guardians of their own mental balance and take steps to do so better, then they realise just how crookedly the game of success is rigged. until that personal epiphany of sovereignty, they remain utter pawns in the myriad, labyrinthine maze of illusion, in which it is written that all have a chance at the brass ring, rah rah predatory capitalism... (except they leave out the adjective, as it isn't genteel to say it out loud).

it's like a spell we have to somehow collectively snap out of...

"I would rather have questions that can't be answered than answers that can't be questioned." - Richard Feynman

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Apr 13th, 2012 at 09:50:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
melo:
nations as abusers is nothing new, but abuse of their own populace has perhaps never attained such a virulence as presently...

This is contradicted by conditions in ancien regieme France, as described by Robert Young and others, but that world had a much lower level of overall production and energy uses, and we are well on our way to recreating such extremes in income distribution in our wonderful post modern societies.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Apr 13th, 2012 at 11:09:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
point taken, populations have been treated very badly through history by their leaders. of course there's no way to do more than speculate, but let's remember how much smaller the populations were then, and the difference in the way power is being wielded.

there was a clearly defined edge where the 'common folk''s interests ran up against the sheriff of nottingham's blackshirts, the hard power, the iron fist that always was the ultimate arbiter of the state's boundaries, the truncheon to the head of the OWS supporter, the nazi firing squads etc.

there wasn't much soft power then, peoples' minds were being bent equally silly by religions, sure, but that's going fast now in the 'foist' world.

now there's a finely stitched velvet glove over the iron fist, called democracy.

now there's one 'religion' left standing, with 'gods' like jamie dimon and blythe masters rarely visible through the mist of their luxurious privacy by the dazzled followers, high priested by the corzines, madoffs, kashakaris, abramoffs who model 'how to make today's reality work for you', for the deacons below them then distributed down to the capillary level, where fathers are telling their sons at 12 years old that only money buys significance, peace, time and a 'good life', and relative to money nothing matters except tribal loyalty... that intelligence and depth are always subservient to wiliness and cunning, therefore focus on those talents, always take the short cut if you think you can get away with it, cheating isn't cheating if it's to put bread on your family's table etc.

and then just when things seem black and white you meet someone in the 1% who is navigating the experience heart in hand, but it's pretty rare.

it is incredible how many contradictions human personalities can accommodate.

if there is a god, i imagine he created free will in humans on a very hasty impulse, or an exceptionally casual whim.

i guess if the universe is infinite, there's a plethora of planets to burn try madcap, throwaway ideas.

and if there isn't then we are swirling in one strange evolutionary eddy, while the rest of sentient creation gazes at us in horrified compassion.

when we were grunting apes, we were surrounded by the wherewithal to create mars rovers and ipads, but did any of us have a remote glimmer that such a future was possible?

is that how it feels looking at the human race now, surrounded by the wherewithal to live wonderful lives and see our environment thrive from our attention?

can we surrender our need to dominate and learn dominion instead? we're a family with a branch gone rogue which has learned to take advantage of the rest of us, and make us think we like it, or we should, and besides, TINA.

"I would rather have questions that can't be answered than answers that can't be questioned." - Richard Feynman

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Apr 13th, 2012 at 01:36:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
There's no standard narrative about social investment.

Not today, no. If we listen to what was said in the post-war era we can hear what Metatone is talking about.

Metatone:

A better analogy for human development might be a long, slow, painstaking fight to construct order in the midst of chaos. Order that is scaffolded by all the infrastructures we design and invest in. Then we might realise that for all the problems with big projects, if we want to continue to progress, we need to find ways to make them happen.


A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES!
by A swedish kind of death on Fri Apr 13th, 2012 at 10:11:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Dead on that my point is not about specific numbers or particular technologies - it's about the narratives.

Overall I see us descending into a learned helplessness where we treat more and more things as "like the weather" - markets are a good example.

Of course, "learned helplessness" is a common feature of the abused side of an abusive relationship, so you're definitely on to something there.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Fri Apr 13th, 2012 at 12:03:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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