Germany's clean energy revolution; Germany is achieving an energy transformation led by individuals and communities, energy consultant and campaigner Alan Simpson writes Germany's clean energy revolution.
In a world already running on iPads, why humour claims that putting go-faster stripes on a Commodore 64 [the eight-bit home computer introduced in 1982] is the route to a better tomorrow? Yet this is often the limit of political 'visions' the public is oered.
is is how it looked as I boarded my cross-country train for the Energiewende conference hosted by Friends of the Earth Cymru in Cardi this July. Westminster politicians were having an early morning squabble over who was most committed to city/regional 'powerhouses' to revive the UK economy.
No-one mentioned Wales. No-one mentioned sustainability. No-one mentioned the 'clean energy' revolution Britain's future will depend on.
Devolved or not, UK debates about energy (and economic) policies still struggle to get beyond the Commodore 64.
A dierent vision? But the invitation from Wales was dierent. I was asked to explain the energy transformation (Energiewende) taking place in Germany over the last 15 years. It was also to question whether Wales might lead a similar revolution in the UK. is is exactly what I had left Parliament to work on.
e change in German energy thinking has been genuinely seismic. In the early 1990s German energy policy was completely dominated by the country's Big 4 energy companies - E.oN, RWE, Vattenfall and EnBW. Today, Germany has almost two million energy generators.
Across the land, German citizens have become producers of their own energy rather than just consumers. And the entirety of this is based on clean, renewable energy. In little more than a decade, Germany has installed more renewable energy generating capacity than the UK's level of peak demand.
Moreover, the majority of new energy in Germany is owned by households, communities, farmers, businesses, and cooperatives. Big Energy owns less than 5%, and is livid that it has lost the power to dictate energy prices. Within the next 10 years half of the Big 4 will probably go bankrupt.
is 'democratisation' of energy has profoundly changed the way German communities talk and think about their energy future.
Most of the UK politicians I have taken to look at Energiewende have been bowled over by the coherence in German thinking. All the rules of their energy game are being changed.
Germany requires clean energy to be taken before dirty. Using less energy takes priority over producing more. And, using 1% interest loans, Germany's equivalent of the Green Investment Bank - not energy companies (nor the absurdities of the Green Deal) - drives an energy eY=ciency programme that last year refurbished 360,000 homes and created 370,000 jobs.
eir policies are currently reducing energy consumption at a rate of 400MW/ month; the equivalent of needing "ve fewer power stations a year. Neither fracking nor nuclear are getting a look in.
A burden or a blessing? Is this scale of intervention harming the German economy? Exactly the opposite. Just look at what Energiewende has delivered: While the UK Treasury still describes such transformation as a cost or a burden, Germany's shift into renewable energy underpins the growth of their economy. And it doesn't end there. German citizens - their towns, cities and regions - recognise there are even bigger gains for everyone if they change the way they distribute and store energy, as well as how they produce it.
A new energy politics More than 190 German localities are taking their energy grids back into social ownership. Central to this is the right of German citizens to the '"rst use' of the energy they generate, buying locally at wholesale rather than retail prices.
is has triggered a huge wave of investment and innovation in smart technologies to share, store and manage energy aows. It oers Germans the prospect of cutting energy bills at the same time as cutting carbon emissions. When has Britain's rigged energy market oered such a choice to Welsh households? Germany's energy and telecommunications sectors are buzzing with the challenge of creating tomorrow's turn to page 26 'smart' energy systems. ese may not revolve around conventional power stations at all. What you can bank on is that the solutions will be lighter, brighter, smarter and quicker than anything you can nd in Britain's 'Commodore 64' energy thinking.
Germany has leapt into almost everything Britain puts into the 'too dicult/let's not go there' ling cabinet. Towns, cities and even communities have powers to invest in their own energy security. ey also have duties to meet (locally) the climate and energy targets set by national government. Localities can give priority to local and community ownership in their planning processes and can, unashamedly, set demandreduction conditions on all infrastructure investment.
roughout the land, this has changed the nature of German energy debates. Communities compete to do more rather than less. Arguments are about which renewable energy technologies are best suited to each locality. Once German citizens became the owners of change they lost interest in being the obstacles to it.
Could this be Wales? From Lloyd George to Aneurin Bevan, Wales has a history of producing giants, not pygmies. Right now, it is in the middle of a massive public consultation - e Wales we Want. e Welsh Assembly also has to produce its own Planning Bill this summer, setting out its vision for a dierent future. Many at the Friends of the Earth conference suggested that, today, the vision would be missing and the leadership absent. But the lessons from Germany suggest another possibility.
e upheavals in German energy thinking have been driven more by German citizens than by German politicians. Where the public demanded to go, political parties (of all hues) were forced to follow. It has produced a social moment that has leapt beyond the stultifying boundaries of just whingeing.
Could this be Wales? It could if you want it. ere is no part of the UK with greater natural assets that could deliver a renewable energy revolution; allowing our children to live more sustainably than my generation has done. But if all you are looking for is 'go-faster' stripes, 'go-fastwr' stripes is all you'll get.
Look hard at your kids before deciding on the Wales you think they're worth.
| Alan Simpson is a freelance |writer, campaigner and consultant on energy and climate policies. He was MP for Nottingham South for 18 years and architect of the FITs amendments in the Energy Act.
The headquarters of German power provider RWE
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|Publication:||Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Jul 23, 2014|
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