Wind energy is cheaper, but capitalism still underproduces it

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seahorse
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Mar 16 2016 23:29
Wind energy is cheaper, but capitalism still underproduces it

Wind energy is often cheaper per kWh than fossil fuels. Then why is it so rare?

This interests me because I've been thinking about the ways capitalism is blocking solutions to global warming.

Capitalism aims to maximize profit. In certain regions, it seems wind provides that opportunity better than fossil fuels. So why is there so little windmill construction?

In the US, the fossil fuel industry and lobby groups are very powerful. But I assume this is less true in other parts of the world, where wind is still underproduced for its cost.

Is there something making wind less profitable that I'm not realizing?

seahorse
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Mar 16 2016 23:29

Below are my sources for the price of wind energy.

The Upcycle, page 104 wrote:
Since the 1980s, the cost per kilowatt-hour of wind has dropped 80 percent; it is approximately 2cents cheaper per kWh than coal-powered electricity on the US market as of June 2012.

Original source: Mark Bolinger and Ryan Wiser, 2011 Wind Technologies Market Report (Oak Ridge, TN: US Department of Energy, 2012).

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-path-to-sustainable-energy-b...

Scientific American wrote:
Today [2009], the cost of wind, geothermal and hydroelectric are all less than 7 cents a kilowatt-hour (kWh); wave and solar are higher. But by 2020 and beyond, wind, wave and hydro are expected to be 4-cents/kWh or less.
For comparison, the average cost in the US in 2007 of conventional power generation and transmission was about 7-cents/kWh, and is projected to be 8-cents/kWh in 2020. Power from wind turbines, for example, already costs about the same or less than it does from a new coal or natural gas plant, and in the future wind power is expected to be the least costly of all options.

Zeronowhere
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Mar 17 2016 15:29

Well, it did produce a lot of hot air.

As far as wind energy, part of that might be that, as you say, that capital was only concerned about profit, and not about utility or efficiency. It couldn't be too concerned about its preservation in practice, as its historical tendency is merely to progressively move towards its self-abolition. In addition, lay-offs of workers in oil and such and sporadic opening in different pursuits, and a general re-organisation along those lines, might have been a bit much during a crisis-hit situation, and recall that these things had the most popular traction in the time leading up to and including the onset of the crisis. That said, though, not only was capital not concerned about efficiency or environmental approvability (and people could get in trouble for apparently 'disturbing workplace atmosphere,' ie. leading people towards disapproval of at least formally capitalist institutions and their formerly assumed purpose of being subjugated to capital), but movements and political legislators' agitation to have it be so concerned seemed to belie a utopian socialist tendency which was rather pronounced, and at the point of agitating for the forcible overthrow of capitalism. Hence, for instance, the 'Hunger Games' showed the restoration of popular literature at long last to an anti-communist polemic, so to speak, although in its case the 'pessimism' was so pervasive that the protagonists identified with the negative freedoms and bourgeois values of the West were faced on all sides with hopelessness and all causes seen as futile, or in brief capitalism's values seen as everywhere in peril, marginalised, and surrounded and overwhelmed by its enemies. This is, as it were, novel.

That said, though, that the environmental movement was a hotbed of reactionary sentiment such as the falsely neutral pessimism that also tended to be channeled by liberalism to justify its being reactionary, might imply that the promotion of wind power over other things, etc., was not its primary concern, but rather the concern was in part capital rather than something misleadingly neutral like the 'environment,' something more immediately experienced and active at the time rather than the abstraction that was the 'environment.' As such, fairly evident arguments that would display the socialist nature of any such enterprise were unlikely to make head-way there, if they were assuming that there was a common cause. That a movement with as little social relevance as environmentalism would die down on a passionate, popular level sooner rather than later, and was only possible due to a pronounced degree of social degradation, seems evident. Of course, all of these forms of energy production were grouped into one industry, and in that sense while every capitalist firm would usually try to strive upwards to be a real capitalist, and otherwise has no momentum as capital's tendency is accumulation, to declare their intention at the beginning to be a small-capitalist or petit-bourgeois enterprise, even if just due to local circumstances, would be self-undermining and probably soon lead to their being broken down. Obviously, small businesses were still supposed to be held over the proletariat, by this meaning all of them, and as such their failing was generally not paid much attention to, and had to be met with a sense of them making a good effort, despite their being a threat to the actual capitalists, another sense in which capitalism tended to have to progressively undermine itself. At the least, it makes it clear that it is capital, and not any particular capitalist, who was promoted in such a society, although in this case this motion was seemingly at its own expense.

In that sense, these forms were generally forced to be fairly marginal enterprises in the larger firms, occasionally used, but were generally associated with various causes and movements involving use-value on some level, and in that sense might not have been something capital would want to encourage the adoption of in practice because this would seem to put too much emphasis on the proletariat. That the environmental niche was always left mostly idle would at least display, though, that there might have been some practical issues with harnessing such forms as well.

EDIT: Anyway, here's Friedrich Engels on this, from his 'Conditions of the Working Class in England': "I once went into Manchester with such a bourgeois, and spoke to him of the bad, unwholesome method of building, the frightful condition of the working-peoples quarters, and asserted that I had never seen so ill-built a city. The man listened quietly to the end, and said at the corner where we parted: "And yet there is a great deal of money made here, good morning, sir."" Obviously the practical bourgeois generally only cared either for their profits or for the maintenance of a social order that only cared about profits, and allowed them to do this.

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whirlwind
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Mar 17 2016 14:14

I for one think this is an interesting topic for discussion. The grande bourgeoisie, in the UK at least, are opposed to wind energy on principle and as seahorse has pointed out this principle is not one of profitability; whereas they wholeheartedly support the nuclear industry. Could it be similar to their backing of the car industry over rail, political interests over economic ones?

I do not know how relevant it is but here is an anecdote relating to wind power. I once journeyed on a ship from Rhodes to Haifa. On route, the ship docked in Cyprus for a couple of hours. The passengers were free to disembark for a couple of hours in Limassol. All the passengers that left the boat were allowed free passage through immigration except one: a wind turbine salesman.

radicalgraffiti
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Mar 17 2016 16:53
seahorse wrote:
Wind energy is often cheaper per kWh than fossil fuels. Then why is it so rare?

This interests me because I've been thinking about the ways capitalism is blocking solutions to global warming.

Capitalism aims to maximize profit. In certain regions, it seems wind provides that opportunity better than fossil fuels. So why is there so little windmill construction?

In the US, the fossil fuel industry and lobby groups are very powerful. But I assume this is less true in other parts of the world, where wind is still underproduced for its cost.

Is there something making wind less profitable that I'm not realizing?

Below are my sources for the price of wind energy.

its only just become cheaper, as your sources show, and it takes time to build.

Renewable sources now account for the vast majority of new energy producing infrastructure built especially in china http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2016/03/16/3760809/renewables-global-co...

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jef costello
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Mar 17 2016 20:37

Cost per KwH doesnt take into account the fact that wind isn't 100% and the cost of backups etc, obviously the more wind you have spread across a grid the more likely you are to be able to absorb fluctuations.
The other thing is that there is a big existing industry that has strong government ties, it's not necessarily profitable to try to break that monopoly.

I read a book about meat production in the US and one of the problems from a free market standpoint was that as it wasn't a hugely profitable industry (4% I think) no one would make the big capital investments needed to enter into a price war to win a share of a market with a margin of 4%

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Reddebrek
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Mar 18 2016 20:51
whirlwind wrote:
I for one think this is an interesting topic for discussion. The grande bourgeoisie, in the UK at least, are opposed to wind energy on principle and as seahorse has pointed out this principle is not one of profitability; whereas they wholeheartedly support the nuclear industry. Could it be similar to their backing of the car industry over rail, political interests over economic ones?

No, if you look at which capitalists are opposing the spread of renewable energy you'll find they're all heavily connected to fossil fuels*. They're trying to strangle competition. This happens every time there's a new market or mode of production.

My area is dominated by oil, gas and coal and "local businesses" fought to obstruct wind and biomass power for years. Now though with UK and EU grants for renewable development and negative press over pollution many of these companies have switched or merged with a renewables company. The coal terminal just across from where I work is being turned into a biomass terminal, by the same company. They've put out a big press offensive congratulating themselves on a new greener and cleaner service.

I've also heard that car manufacturers in the US have used there lobby to get state governments to restrict access to new electric car companies. This is all just basic business practice.

*Actually Donald Trump opposes off shore wind farms in Scotland because they'll ruin the views from his golf course, but his an outlier.

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whirlwind
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Mar 19 2016 07:25

Yes Red, this sounds true what you say and I was talking glibly.

Quote:
*Actually Donald Trump opposes off shore wind farms in Scotland because they'll ruin the views from his golf course, but his an outlier.

I know the argument about wind turbines spoiling the view – my local bourgeoisie have used it too – I just don't happen to believe them. It is certainly an issue that concerns the bourgeois but not for the reasons they assert publicly. Wind energy is a stumbling block for the unbridled expansion of capital; the bourgeois require it just as a gloss. One of them here organised an event in the Manor House (sic) where they live entitled 'reverse coal mining' at which the central proceeding was to dig a hole and bury coal in it as some sort of act of symbolism. Baffling!?

Whereas they oppose wind turbines they are quite happy to see solar farms which have popped up on numerous locations round here (Wiltshire). That to me is truly mad.

This matter can't be mentioned in isolation but only as a whole. What about the German State's decision to drop nuclear power. I think that is the crux. Even after Chernobyl and the rest and the unresolved issue of nuclear waste most of the national economies are resolute in their determination to carry on with their catastrophic folly.

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patient Insurgency
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Mar 19 2016 22:06

http://www.iea.org/newsroomandevents/pressreleases/2016/march/decoupling...

I recall seeing somewhere that 90% of new energy production globally is already renewable, and furthermore that wind is more than half of it. I found this on the IEA website to back it up.

seahorse
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Mar 26 2016 03:23

Been away from libcom for a while. Thanks everyone for posting. I feel less confused about it now.

Does anyone here think it's within capitalism's capabilities to *avoid* causing an extremely catastrophic level of global warming? Just an interesting question to throw out there.

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A Wotsit
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Mar 26 2016 11:34

Aufheben did an article on 'green' capitalism and considered whether low/ zero emission technologies/ renewables could be adopted quick enough to avoid catastrophic climate change.

http://libcom.org/library/climate-crisis-%E2%80%A6and-new-green-capitalism

I think I'm right in saying Aufheben concluded that capitalism probably won't avoid catastrophic levels of climate change, but that it is theoretically possible for capitalism to 'go green' (if the working class pick up the cost- e.g. 'green workfare' and the green capitalists gain the upper hand in legal wranglings over carbon trading etc.).

Also check out the Out of The Woods blog which touched on the issue of how likely (or inevitable) it is we are going to experience catastrophic climate change and explored some of the implications (e.g. Who's Afraid of Ruins?, UK Storms: A Vision of the Future).

http://libcom.org/outofthewoods

seahorse
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Mar 29 2016 00:37

Great info! More than I'm ready to read at the moment, but will check it out when I have time.

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Joseph Kay
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Apr 2 2016 06:02
A Wotsit wrote:
I think I'm right in saying Aufheben concluded that capitalism probably won't avoid catastrophic levels of climate change, but that it is theoretically possible for capitalism to 'go green' (if the working class pick up the cost- e.g. 'green workfare' and the green capitalists gain the upper hand in legal wranglings over carbon trading etc.).

On that note: solar panels made with prison labour. Looks like we're getting the worst of both worlds: near-term runaway effects of climate change and climate change as a pretext to double down on exploitative carceral and extractive logics.

seahorse
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Apr 24 2016 07:09

Orange is the New Green?