Russian Release Highlights How Much Landscape Has Changed

December 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

 By Alexis Flynn and Cassie Werber

Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky in Moscow in October.

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As Russian rehabilitations go, jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s release from prison only eight months before he was due to be released anyway may not rank high on the Rokossovsky scale.

But as The Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison and Alexander Kolyandr report, President Vladimir Putin’s decision to pardon the former Yukos CEO after 10 years in prison for financial crimes still came as a surprise to most observers.

Whether it was a strategic move by the Kremlin to dial back criticism of Mr. Putin’s human rights record ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year remains to be seen.

What isn’t in dispute is that Mr. Khodorkovsky will come out of prison to a very different country to the one he made his fortune in.

Until his dramatic arrest by armed special forces on the tarmac of an airport in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, Mr. Khodorkovsky’s company was the biggest oil producer in Russia and he had amassed a personal fortune believed to be in the region of $8 billion.

What happened next changed the face of Russia’s economic and political landscape.

In effect, it was the end of the cowboy capitalism of the Yeltsin era, when savvy, shrewd and sometimes criminal entrepreneurs were able to snaffle up lucrative assets for peanuts, turning themselves into billionaires overnight. Some, such as  Mr. Khodorkovsky, had sought to transform themselves into legitimate businessmen and court foreign investors.

But with his arrest and imprisonment on charges of fraud and tax evasion, the Kremlin reasserted its control over Russia’s vitally important energy sector.

State-owned Rosneft, a minor player at the time, snatched up Yukos’s assets as the firm was dissolved. Rosneft’s elevation from bit player to national champion was completed this year when the company bought out BP’s Russian joint venture, TNK-BP, for $55 billion, making the company the biggest oil producer in the world.

Ironically, when he was arrested in 2003, Mr. Khodorkovsky had been in negotiations with Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron about a possible sale of a 40% stake in Yukos, the Journal’s Greg. L White and Jeanne Whalen reported at the time.

Now, 10 years later, profits from those same oil fields are finding a way into BP’s coffers. Following their cash-and-shares deal, the British company now owns 20% of Rosneft.


Solar power, once an outlier, is beginning to be seen as a mature technology, alongside onshore wind.

The technology could be gaining particular traction in Japan, Bloomberg reports. Solar photovoltaic panels—which transform the sun’s rays into electricity—were first developed in the 1970s, in reaction to that decade’s oil crisis. Japan could be turning to them now in the wake of its own energy crisis, sparked by a 2011 leak that led to its nuclear power stations being shut down.

Japan’s renewables market is booming, thanks to the July 2012 introduction of an incentive program for clean energy, Chisaki Watanabe writes. Capacity has doubled since the program started.

China will be the world’s largest market for new solar over the next three years, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. But Japan won’t be far behind.

The Guardian has a story about a new way to fund solar in the developing world. SunFunder, the brainchild of a former Wells Fargo solar project manager, is a crowdfunding project focusing on solar installation.

“I really believe that solar can leapfrog the grid over the next decade or two the same way cellphones were able to leapfrog landlines in developing countries,” Ryan Levinson told the Guardian. But it’s going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars, he said.

One Japanese company, meanwhile, has an idea that will tackle one of the major problems of solar generation: intermittency.

Because the sun doesn’t shine all the time, power generation soars in daylight hours and then collapses. Electricity is difficult to store, meaning that much renewable generation from sources like wind and sun need to be backed up by traditional, fossil fuel-burning methods.

Shimizu Corporation’s answer is to build a solar power station on the moon.

A band of solar panels would run all the way around the Moon’s 11,000-kilometer (6,835 mile) equator, meaning a part would be eternally in sunshine. Quartz points out that the main problem may come with the question, who owns the moon?


Brent crude oil on Friday was trading around the same level it began the week, while U.S. crude has climbed more than $2 since Monday, defying any worries that a withdrawal of economic stimulus might send prices downward. “Tapering was seen as a sign of confidence in the economy rather than as a blow to liquidity,” according to analysts at oil brokerage PVM. The latest market comment can be read here.

This is the final Energy Journal of 2013. Normal service will resume on Jan. 2. Happy New Year to all our readers!



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