On September 27, I went to the presentation of the book “Energy Democracy – Germany’s Energiewende to renewables” from authors Craig Morris and Arne Jungjohann. I had meet Craig a few weeks before in Berlin, after following his articles in Renewables international and on the Germany Energy Transition Blog since over two years. These two websites have been a precious (and almost endless) source of information on the Energiewende and the story of community energy. The knowledge they accumulated over the years was put into a book, which I knew was about to come out. Was great to see it materialize!
The event was called “Bürgerenergie global?”, which can be translated as “Global community (or citizen) energy?”. It took place at the Humbold University and was introduced by Markus Hanisch (Department of Economics of agricultural cooperatives at the HU). The moderator was Karena Kalmbach (TU Eindhoven), with the participation of Julia Verlinden (MP for the Greens in the German Parliament), Christian Held (Lawyer at BBH, specialized on Energy Laws) and the two co-authors of the book: Arne Jungjohann and Craig Morris.
While introducing the book, Markus Hanisch highlighted the coincidental release of the book “Energy Democracy” and the latest revision of the Renewable Energy Bill (EEG2017). This is indeed pretty ironical as we have on the one hand a book celebrating the democratic character of the Energiewende and a law revision that is massively criticized for undermining the access of small actors to funding for renewables.
Arne Jungjohann then presented the book and explained that it has been written in English as it mostly addresses an international audience. He said that he always heard foreign observers referring (more or less critically) to the Energiewende as a way to push renewables and phase out nuclear. But he said that what is really unique about it, the large contribution from citizens and communities, was never reported upon. This became their motivation to write the book.
The participants then gave their opinion on the latest revision of the EEG2017. The Green MP Julia Verlinden described it as a catastrophe for the development of renewables since an upper limit was set for the first time. She said that this limit on the installation of new renewables is too low and actually jeopardizes reaching the climate goals that have been set during the COP21.
She then explained that if small actors benefited from the vacuum left by the “big four” (energy utilities) at the beginning of the Energiewende (when they did not believe in it), the political signal has lately become very negative for the plurality of participants (especially for the smaller ones). This is notably illustrated by the introduction of auctions (or tenders) for wind farms and solar (above a certain size), which are thought to advantage institutional investors and big utilities whereas creating hurdles for cooperatives.
You have the right to make your own energy
Craig Morris then gave a bit more background on the book. He explained why they chose to highlight the quote “you have the right to make your own energy”. This is understood abroad as “you can put solar panels on your roof” whereas in Germany it can mean “you can build your own wind farm”. The scale of citizen energy and their success in the German energy transition is very often underestimated and they wanted to understand what made it possible in the first place. They investigated the cultural and political environment in Germany, as well as the legal and historical developments.
There were more discussions on the importance of households, the legal settings (also in the EU) and other topics raised by the audience, like the importance of mobility and heating in the Energiewende (which is so far mostly a “Stromwende” – an electricity transition). People were also interested to understand what parts of the Energiewende could be translated in other countries. The authors reminded that exporting the Enegiewende was not the first motivation of the book and that the political and cultural landscape in Germany that enabled it are very special. They offer comparison to other countries’ political settings in the book (there’s a chapter on France, I heard!).
I guess we’ll need to read the book to get the crunchy details out of this historical energy transition!
Chat with the MP on energy as a commons
After the event, I had a glass of (co-op!) wine and a chat with Julia Verlinden. I wanted to ask her if she had any idea on how to make the Energiewende even more democratic and inclusive, i.e., by giving access and ownership to people who don’t have an investment capacity. I am asking that because the access to energy co-ops is largely restricted to people who do have money to invest. She pointed that some co-ops like Greenpeace energy are accessible to most (a share costs 55 euros), but that indeed, buying shares for a village wind farm is not always possible. When I said that this is a consequence of treating energy as a commodity and not as a commons, I realized the misconception that people have of the commons. She answered that she thinks energy is not a commons because it should not be free of costs. I said that commons are not per definition “for free”: they can have a price, we just need to agree upon it (and not just let the market fix it). Only it is not used to make profit, or if it is, it serves the community (or fills the state pockets), not just a minority.