Speeches of Hermann Scheer Series, Speech 1: “Lipservice, Excuses, And The Lack of Courage”

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Last week, President Obama took a few moments during his inauguration speech to address climate change and the need for the US to show leadership in the transition to clean energy. Since the President made some refreshingly clear statements about the most important issues of our time, I am happy that they got alot of attention throughout the media. However, they were vague, and we still have to see to what political action they lead.

To give a better understanding of what meaningful action requires, I want to start sharing some excerpts from speeches given by Hermann Scheer during the past decade.

In case you don’t know who Hermann Scheer is, here’s a little Introduction:

Until his sudden death in 2010 at age 66, Hermann Scheer was one of the leading global voices for a transition to a 100% renewable energy supply. Time Magazine once called him “Hero of the Green Century,” and a German newspaper once labeled him an “uncompromising renewable energy hawk.” As a member of the German parliament, he was a driving force behind most of the country’s renewable energy policies & initiatives since the late 1980s. Among others, this legacy includes the 1999 “100,000 Rooftop Program,” the German Renewable Energy Act of 2000, and the initiative to create the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) between 2008-2009.

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But now, here’s a transcript of one of his speeches from 2005 (the remainder of this article, except the last line and the picture, is an extended quote):

The famous philosopher Schopenhauer identified three stages in the implementation of a new solution. At first it is ignored. Secondly, there is strong opposition against it. In the end, former opponents and skeptics turn into supporters of the new initiative.

The state of Renewable Energy development does not confirm this view: nowadays, everybody speaks in favor of Renewable Energies. But at the same time, too many fossil fuel supporters continue their blockades. There are too many lip services paid and too little concrete action.

This situation shows: renewable energies are not really accepted as a priority by a majority of decision-makers in politics and economics.

Numerous excuses are on the table: the expenses will be too high, the technologies aren’t ready, the market won’t accept renewables; and a lack of consensus does exist.

However, all these so called “arguments” only portray a lack of leadership and a lack of courage to set the right priorities. Forceful, speeding developments require driving forces. No one will become a driving force without courage, consistent concepts, and new alliances.

The reasons of the German success were the following:

1. The Right Concept

The German feed-in-law gave space for independent power supplies, protected them from the interferences of the conventional energy suppliers by creating a special market framework for renewables outside the conventional energy “market” rules. And it was based on guaranteed access to the grid and on guaranteed feed-in-prices. It offered investment security for renewables.

Wherever this concept was introduced, the targeted renewable energies gained momentum. In contrast, wherever an RPS-system was introduced, there was much slower development and — by the way — less cost decline / effectiveness.

The reasons are very obvious: the costs of a project, let’s say a wind mill, are not only the costs for the technology, but include the expenses for getting the permissions for installations. Only a few can shoulder these expenses without an investment security, which means without a guarantee for implementation. That means no one can calculate these real costs when he participates in a call for tender. And that is the reason why many projects within a RPS-system are not realized.

2. The Courage To Overrule The Conventional Energy Interests

Conventional energy interests exist everywhere, and are deeply mixed with governments. The initiatives in Germany came from within the Parliament, based on its constitutional duty and legitimacy to act for the common interest and not for special interest.

3. The Mobilization Of The Common People

The general public is the best ally for renewable energies, as soon as the public has recognized that renewable energies work. Therefore, it is a must to enlighten the people about the possibilities and the benefits of renewable energies, and to challenge the will of the people to be responsible for our common future – and to do so by offering an economic incentive in order to overcome social barriers.

We have to promote renewables by creating public confidence in renewables, and by referring to the two main values of the people:

  • individual freedom, by getting energy independency for everybody and not only for a few; and
  • social commitment, which means access to energy without damaging the quality of life of others. This is only possible with renewables.

4. The Establishment Of A New Socio-Economic Alliance

Two strong campaigns against our feed-in tariff law were waged in Germany. We countered these campaigns with two actions in front of the Parliament, carried out not only by the renewable energy associations and the renewable energy protagonists in the Parliament, but also by the economic interest groups who see their own future combined with that of renewables: the farmers associations, the association of small and medium enterprises, the association of machine manufacturers, and the Union of the Workers in the Machine, Electrical Equipment, and Buildings Construction Industry. There never existed such an alliance of different groups in all of history.

– Hermann Scheer on April 23rd 2005 at a WTO Symposium titled “Rethinking the Energy Paradigm”

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