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Published on October 23rd, 2013 | by John Farrell

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3 Reasons Germans Are Kicking Ass & Taking Names With Renewable Energy

October 23rd, 2013 by  



Germany is racing past 20% renewable energy on its electricity grid, but news stories stridently warn that this new wind and solar power is costing “billions.” But often left out (or buried far from the lede) is the overwhelming popularity of the country’s relentless focus on energy change (energiewende).

How can a supposedly expensive effort to clean up the energy supply be so popular?

1. It’s about the cost, not the price

Most news stories focus on the cost of electricity in Germany, which has some of the highest rates per kilowatt-hour in the world.  But they don’t note that the average German electricity bill – about $100 a month – is the same as for most Americans.  Germans are much more efficient users of energy than most, so they can afford higher rates without having higher bills.  (Note to self: check out options for energy efficiency).

2. It’s about vision

Germany doesn’t just have an incremental approach to renewable energy, but a commitment supported by 84 percent of residents to get to 100% renewable energy “as quickly as possible.”  A few U.S. states have renewable energy visions (e.g. 33% by 2020, 25% by 2025) that approach Germany’s, but they’re mired in the notion that despite enormous savings to society in terms of health and environmental benefits, renewable energy shouldn’t cost any more today than conventional, dirty energy on the utility bill.  Germans have taken the long view (about energy security, price volatility, etc).

3. It’s about ownership 

I lied in #1.  Support for Germany’s renewable energy quest isn’t about cost of energy, but about the opportunity to own a slice of the energy system.  Millions of Germans are building their retirement nest egg by individually or collectively owning a share of wind and solar power plants supplying clean energy to their communities. Nearly half of the country’s 63,000 megawatts of wind and solar power is owned locally, and these energy owners care as much about the persistence of renewable energy they own as they do about the energy bill they pay. Not only do these German energy owners reduce their own net cost of energy, every dollar diverted from a distant multinational utility company multiplies throughout their local economy.

Ownership of Germany's Renewable Energy Capacity
John Farrell, ILSR

Not only does local ownership flip the notion of energy costs as consumers become producers, it also flips the notion of political ownership. Three-quarters of Germans want to maintain a focus on “citizen-managed, decentralized renewable energy.”

The tunnel vision on cost so prevalent in the press reflects the perspective of incumbent utilities, whose market share declines as their former customers produce their own power. It’s a story that plays out in the U.S., when debates over new power plants focus narrowly on the cost per kilowatt-hour rather than how an individual or community can retain more of their energy dollar.

It may seem that Germany is going renewable “at all costs,” but only if we are resigned to being energy consumers.  Because their and our energy transition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take charge of our energy future.  That’s priceless. 
 





 

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About the Author

directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (energyselfreliantstates.org), and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at jfarrell@ilsr.org.



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