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Winning the Renewable Revolution Against All Odds

Posted on Feb 22, 2013

With each passing day it is becoming hard to argue that climate change is not the greatest challenge we have ever faced. We now approach the precipice of runaway catastrophic global warming caused by our use of fossil fuels in everything we do every day. Renewable energy and renewable resources hold the completely workable answer to this looming colossal disaster for our children's future. Broad scientific and even political consensus supports this view, witness the recent emphasis on addressing climate change by Obama in that bastion of climate change denial driven by large profitable oil and banking multinationals. Like the majority of us people around the world, Obama knows that if his and our children are to have a future worth living then we must seriously, quickly and effectively make the shift to 100% renewable energy and renewable resources. We know how to do this and we have all the technology required, as well as reports and plans that make clear how (read the many books by Hermann Scheer on a solar economy from the man who created the renewable energy miracle that is the German economy).

Scheer discovered as an economist that the barriers to renewable energy are many, which he details with extensive references in his many books on the subject. His "Solar Revolution" in Germany was made possible by his brilliant use of social, political and economic understanding, to create, on the backs of a "green" social movement, using political powers in the Federal German governments ability to require electricity utilities to provide priority to renewable energy (for obvious social and environmentally beneficial reasons), at a price that offered a reasonable profit, for a guaranteed 20 years, and with no limits to the scale of deployment (in order to encourage industrial scale development which ultimately will bring the cost down below that of fossil and uranium non-renewables). The absolutely brilliant thing about this legislation he got passed from the back benches of power, was that it threaded the tiniest of holes in the strangle hold that is the "conventional" energy players domain, and one which they stand to lose trillions in profits if they lose.

World Trade Organization (WTO) rules prohibited Germany from offering subsidies to renewable energy producers, despite the inequity of fossil and nuclear industries receiving more than half a trillion dollars annually in subsidies (allowed for historic reasons, reasons of attained power and control, who knows, it amounts to paying these companies a tax payer bonus to kill our children). Scheer was able to formulate legislation that costs tax payers nothing and so is not a subsidy by WTO rules. Instead, his legislation requires that the development of the 20+ year renewable energy projects are paid for by the project developers along with all long terms risk that are associated with these investments, again shielding tax payers from any risk, and conforming to WTO rules. In Germany, the last decade of renewable energy development has seen half of these investments owned by local community members thus creating a level of what Scheer calls democratizing energy, making political democracy possible again. Brilliant.

So, how are the utilities that are required to allow renewable energy projects on to the grid, able to pay for the electricity so injected without giving these utilities a subsidy to make those payments? Ratepayers, the people and companies using the electricity pay in proportion to the amount that they consume. Use less, then pay less. Use more, then you pay more. This has amounted to mere cents per kilowatt hour added to consumers bills, with the added benefit that it provides a monetary incentive to use less, in order to conserve where economically possible and feasible. At the same time consumers have the freedom to invest in renewable energy generation as well, further providing incentives for real energy and political democracy.

Germany, literally using the power from this renewable energy system, is the engine of the European economy, all despite the favorable treatment, subsidies and rules that substantially favor fossil fuel and nuclear industries. So, even in an insane world where oil subsidies are not removed, even in an insane world where WTO rules restrict renewables from subsidies, even in a world where a carbon/pollution/long term risk tax that realistically priced fossil and uranium based energy sources so that the market represented reality as it should, even without any of these sensible, justifiable changes, Scheer found a way to fight and win the renewable energy revolution in Germany.