What Solar Power Tells Us About Ukraine

Awesome and welcome news about the price of solar power – it has now reached price parity with fossil fuels in certain markets.  Today it’s developing economies in Asia – but it’s coming for everywhere else too.  The march of solar power continues apace, and short of a shocking and unpredicted slowdown in its development it will very quickly become the obvious choice for new power generation installation.  As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard points out in the Telegraph, a secular decline in oil demand and thus prices will completely hammer rentier petrostates like Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and yes, Russia.  For the last forty years or so, oil was the only thing propping up the economy of Russia and the USSR before that.

At the margin, this should probably make us more frightened about Russia’s intentions in Eastern Europe.  Vladimir Putin is not a stupid man, and unless his intelligence service is completely dysfunctional, they have likely been mulling over the alarming price charts of solar for the past four or five years.  As oil demand starts to slacken, it will completely destroy the government finances and military capability of the Russian state.  Without an endless river of oil money, it might prove difficult to keep buying off elites and regular Russians.  It will certainly prove difficult to maintain its relatively high degree of regional military power, especially after the extremely expensive professionalization and modernization reforms of the past few years.

Russia might at this moment be more relatively powerful than it will be for the foreseeable future – or ever again, perhaps.  Steven van Evera writes that we should be concerned about wars as great powers decline, in order to seize advantages before they disappear.  It’s certainly hard to imagine that Russia will ever be better-positioned for a geopolitical power grab against its neighbors than it is in April, 2014.  If Putin wants to regain Novorossiya, the clock is ticking.

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One response to “What Solar Power Tells Us About Ukraine”

  1. Ge.Ma says :

    You make an interesting observation. It’s true that the new renewable sources are displacing the current energy sources and that the Russian economy will suffer (since about 80% of exports derive from the raw materials, including gas and oil), but a Russia’s military swansong seems to me unlikely, even if undeniably unpredictable. IMHO, this factor could also turn out to be a deterrent from engaging in costly bellicose actions.

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