Space-based solar plant gets go-ahead

From the NYT’s Green Inc blog: 

California regulators on Thursday went where no regulators have gone before — approving a utility contract for the nation’s first space-based solar power plant.

The 200-megawatt orbiting solar farm would convert solar energy collected in space into radio frequency waves, which would be beamed to a ground station near Fresno, Calif. The radio waves would then be transformed back into electricity and fed into the power grid.

A Southern California start-up called Solaren will loft components for the solar power plant into orbit and sell the electricity it generates to Pacific Gas and Electric, the major utility in Northern California, under a 15-year contract. The project is supposed to be turned on in 2016.

The Mafia goes green

The FT has an interesting story today about an investigation into Mafia involvement in multi-million-euro wind farm deals in Sicily.

Italian and EU subsidies for the building of wind farms and the world’s highest guaranteed rates, €180 ($240, £160) per kwh, for the electricity they produce have turned southern Italy into a highly attractive market exploited by organised crime.

‘Turned’? Shurely it always was…

A criminal investigation called “Operation Wind” revealed Mafia promises to local officials in Mazara del Vallo of money and votes in exchange for help in approving wind farm projects.

The Mafia suspects were alleged to be linked to Matteo Messina “Diabolik” Denaro, a fugitive clan boss on ltaly’s most wanted list.

Prosecutors suspect the hand of the Mafia in fixing permits and building wind farms that are then sold on to Italian and eventually foreign companies.

Several wind farms built by companies suspected of being linked to the Mafia have not functioned for one or two years, in some cases because of shoddy construction. “This is the amazing thing, that developers got public money to build wind farms which did not produce electricity,” the prosecutor said.

This is not the first massive scam in the renewable sector, nor will it be the last. Governments are about to throw hundreds of billions of dollars at this sector, oversight will be low, and the opportunities for rip-offs will be huge.

Finance goes medieval

I think we’re going through a commercial revolution in reverse.

In the 12th – 14th century, finance gradually worked its way free of ecclesiastical limits, and burst out into an orgy of innovation which has lasted until the present day, when the age of leverage appears to be coming to an end.

However, all is not completely bleak for the City. The two types of finance that seem set to grow are (1) Islamic finance, and (2) renewables / carbon finance. These young markets have very rosy outlooks, and they’re on the whole centred in London.

It struck me today that these two markets are actually very similar. They’re both ‘green’, OK, that’s not a big similarity. But they both also involve finance that is sanctioned by moral boards.

So, for example, an Islamic bank like the European Islamic Investment Bank sanctions its activities by having a Shariah board that gives the ethical thumbs up to any deal it does.

An environmental finance fund like the European Carbon Fund also has its board of (mainly bearded) experts who also give the ethical thumbs up to any deals it does.

Finance is slowly working its way back into the ecclesiastical strictures – either of Islam or of the new religion of Gaia – out of which it burst all those centuries ago.  It’s going back into the womb.