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June 25, 2009


Etienne Pollard

"Who owns the sun?"

The question, surely, is "who owns the land?". The answer in this case is, broadly, the Algerian, Tunisian and Morrocan states, plus Qadaffi.

"If EMI are allowed to profit from music that they didn't create, might not North Africa have some right to profit from energy that it didn't create? Equally, it sounds risky for a project with billions of euros of sunk costs to be exploiting a resource that is so difficult to privatise (it's not as if there is no 'weather' in Europe). What happens when capital's demand to retain surplus goes head to head with the sun's insistence on distributing it?"

Loosely translated, I think that you're asking 1) will the North African countries get a cut of the revenue, and 2) what happens when there's more solar power available than demand for this power. The answer to 1) is surely "yes" - after all, these are the same guys who have been taking a cut from all the oil and (mostly) gas underneath their land, so it's not like this is new territory for them, and as for 2) I seriously doubt that will be a problem for a few centuries to come.

Finally, the overall subtext seems to be that the Desertec consortium will be an anti-competitive, anti-democratic energy cartel. Ironically, the only entity that could really stop this happening is the European Commission.

Will Davies

Oh, my attempt to think more broadly about the nature of economic value appears to have been ungratefully received.

So, yes - existing property and competition regimes will have to do.


Excellent post, though I suspect those pesky 'energy security' issues will (always?) trump the general/restricted dichotomy. Shades of nuclear optimism of the early 1950s in your conclusion there - too cheap to meter etc.

We've had similarly ambitious proposals floated in Australia. I'm not holding my breath.

German climate change+industrial policy is based on the ('expensive' according the neoclassicists) large scale deployment of solar PV through a feed-in tariff. The idea is that, through an ongoing public experiment (promoted through a 'best practice' discourse thoroughly within the bounds of the 'restricted' economy), other countries will purchase their technology.

As satisfying as thinking through breakages and ruptures in the discourse of utility may be, I'm not at all convinced that gratuitous expenditure could be the death knell of capitalism, I'd be more inclined to say (via Veblen's Leisure Class) that it's front and centre of its dynamic - the question being who wastes.

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