Saturday, May 25, 2013

Skipping economic development steps

When I was at the University of Minnesota, I had a roommate from Bangladesh for a year.  He used to say something I thought preposterous, "We will advance from pre-indistrialization to post-industrialization and just skip the problems that come from industrialization."  The reason I thought this so preposterous is that I was one of those creatures who thought if you wanted to do industrialization right, you simply had to take all the necessary steps—especially those like making machine tools that came with the lessons of precision.  "Not possible!" I would sputter.

I still advise against taking shortcuts.  Learning all the steps produces an economy with a near infinity of possibilities.  Contrast South Korea—a country that carefully learned all the steps of industrialization and China which skipped a bunch and still relies heavily on runaway "screwdriver" industrialization.  The result is that Korea has companies that can build things no one else on the planet can build—China seems like it is decades from that stage.

But my friend from Bangladesh was right in one respect—there ARE perfectly sterling example of skipping stages that have worked very well, thank you very much.  The story is told of how Frank Zappa met with Vaclav Havel not long after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.  Czechoslovakia was left with an utterly pathetic telephone system.  Zappa's advice was not to even try to fix those land lines and go straight to cellular.  (Remember, in the early 1990s, this was still pretty radical advice.)  And so it happened.  Czechoslovakia went from having one of the worst phone systems to one of the best in less than a decade.  And one of the things that facilitated that process was the fact that there was nothing about the old system worth saving.

Now that solar cells have reached the semi-commodity stage, the economic benefits of solar are now so easy to prove, and installation nearly routine, we should see big-time "stage-skipping" in those lesser developed nations that don't have a bunch of installed energy infrastructure to displace.  Many of these countries have spectacular solar collection sites.  Here we see a piece by France's 24 about Morocco's commitment to solar.  They have a lot of solar energy to collect.  If they do this right, they will significantly change their lives—I believe for the better.

Morocco: Kingdom of Sun

By Emilie COCHAUD / Juliette LACHARNAY / Mairead DUNDAS / Marina BERTSCH  24/05/2013

Morocco may have little to no fossil fuel resources, but the kingdom has its eyes on a brighter future. By 2020 the country plans to produce 42 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, a large portion of it thanks to energy from the sun.

This week the Down to Earth team explores the seemingly limitless potential of solar power in sun-drenched Morocco. With 3,000 hours of sunlight each year and high irradiation, the North African country is perfectly placed to tap into this inexhaustible resource.

In the southern city of Ouarzazate, famous as the door to the desert, King Mohammed VI has just approved the construction of a 500 megawatt solar plant, "the biggest project known in the world today", according to Mustapha Bakkoury of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy. It's the first of five similar projects with an estimated price tag of seven billion euros. Critics have questioned whether the cost is extraordinarily exorbitant, but Morocco is confident it has made the right choice by banking on solar power. more

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