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100% renewables: local initiatives

By Dave Elliott

The World Future Council’s report, ‘From vision to action: A workshop report on 100% Renewable Energies in European Regions’, provides an in-depth policy analysis of renewable energy front runner countries, Germany, Denmark and Austria, and identifies successful policy elements and instruments. It builds on a parliamentary hearing that the World Future Council (WFC) hosted together with Climate Service Center in the Nordic Folkecenter and outlines solutions as well as implementation strategies for a fossil-free society.

The WFC blurb says ‘the overall goal of this publication is to educate and inspire a broader range of stakeholders who must engage, if we are to advance the goal of 100% RE in European Regions’. It is certainly inspirational stuff. It says that  ‘It is a fact that non-renewable energies will, by definition, deplete. It is also a fact that in the meantime, dependence on these energy sources is causing multiple existential global crises. If human beings are to preserve planetary habitability, we must soon shift to 100% RE in all sectors’.

There are overviews of progress in Germany, Denmark and Austria, with the emphasis not just on the technology but also on the social process side. The report notes that  ‘a true energy transformation must ensure wide participation of a broad range of stakeholders, including local citizens, and new ownership models. Only community-driven solutions are proving to enable our society to rapidly convert our energy production and supply industries.’

And it reports that in Denmark  ‘over 100 wind energy cooperatives have a combined ownership of three quarters of the country’s turbines’, while ‘the majority of district heating loops in Denmark were owned by the inhabitants of the community’.  And in Germany, it notes that by the end of 2011, more than 65 GW of renewable electricity had been installed, with more than half owned by citizens and farmers, and that ‘the number of locally owned energy co-operatives has risen six-fold since 2007, to 586 in 2012. Since then this local level growth has accelerated even further. A new review of German energy co-ops by the Wuppertal Institute says that by the end of 2013, there were 942, with 76,500 members, most of them directly involved with renewable energy generation:

Less well known, in Austria, the WFC report notes that ‘there are more than 80 Climate and Energy Model Regions encompassing almost 900 municipalities and two million people…setting the course for Austria’s target of becoming energy independent by 2050’. These regions must produce green power to equal to their annual energy use. The town of Guessing was among the first in the EU to have achieved the 100% goal. In fact the report says  ‘it produces about 10 times more energy than it needs and approximately 40 times more electricity than it uses, all with renewable resources’. And Guessing inspired its state, Upper Austria, to commit to achieving 100% renewables power and heat by 2030.

In terms of strategic direction, the report backs the use of Feed In Tariffs to help support local projects, arguing that smaller units are the best. In Italy, for example, it notes that about 97% of the 13GW of the solar PV projects installed by 2011 were below 200 kW, and 74% were below 1 MW. In Germany, where 25GW of PV had been installed by 2011, most projects were below 100 kW. By contrast, sunny Spain has tended to favor large, utility scale solar arrays and had only achieved 4 GW. A bit less convincingly it claims the same applies to wind  ‘By the beginning of 2011, projects smaller than 20 MW comprised almost 90% of Germany’s 27,000 MW of wind power capacity, with the majority being only 1-5MW in size’. There are clear energy gains from using larger machines, but the report worries about problems with locating large projects near communities, so it wants to keep projects small.  But it’s also keen of offshore projects, like the proposed Danish Green Power Island wind energy storage scheme.

The exposition on ‘Mitigation and Adaptation’ is interesting. It defines Adaptation as ‘an action that aims to reduce the vulnerability of a system and to enhance its resilience against actual or future impacts of climate change’ and Mitigation as involving  policies ‘that stabilize the concentration of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere by reducing them and enhancing greenhouse gas emissions sinks’.  It notes  that ‘Adaptation is implemented on – and benefits – a local or regional scale, whereas mitigation has global benefits. Moreover, adaptation actions have an influence in the short-term, while the impact of mitigation options is long-term’.

It argues that in fact  ‘adaptation and mitigation are two sides of the same coin and that 100% renewables energy can address the two challenges with one solution’. That’s not completely clear, given the different time scales and locations of their impacts . There are however some projects which can do both at the same time, for example by ‘climate proofing’ energy systems.

Predictably the report sees energy efficiency is key to achieving 100% renewable energies, along with load management and demand response programmes, linked up via  smart grids, with ‘technologies and systems that provide more detailed energy consumption information to consumers and allow energy use to be adjusted to help manage the heating/cooling and power grids’.

Although it also looks at heat supply and transport, this is not a technology based report, much less a detailed energy scenario. Instead the emphasis is on broader policies and action. To that end it summarises what  are seen as the key measures  needed to set the scene for a 100% renewables future, as follows :

– Require that all new energy investments are 100% toward renewable energies

– Provide market access for all, including citizens

– Provide investment security to enable people to put their money into the most appropriate technologies

– Ensure direct benefits to communities

– Increase efficiency of the energy system by combining heat and power

– Create a level playing field between the renewable energies sector and fossil fuel industry.

It is perhaps a little utopian, but maybe there is no harm in that; there is a desperate need for vision to shake off the view that there is ‘no alternative’ but the status quo. Workshop presentations: Report 

With, in Germany, self-generation  by ‘prosumers’ and local energy co-ops challenging the conventional power market, things are changing fast. The large energy utilities are having to rethink their approach, with for example RWE refocusing on distributed renewables and integration services.  In my next post I will look at local community projects in more detail and at what’s been happening in the UK.

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