Postcards from Germany: an energy revolution, and how it happened
In recent months, a delegation from the Party, in partnership with FES, investigated how co-operative and mutual approaches are key to Germany’s economic success. So what are the lessons for the UK? In the first of a two part series, Communications Officer Ben West looks at what we can learn from Germany's community energy revolution.
Supported by policies backed by the Co-operative Party, recent years have seen a huge growth in co-operatively-owned community energy schemes here in the UK. But we’re a long way behind Germany, where half of all renewable energy is generated by residents, community groups, towns, and small enterprises.
In 2010 Germany embarked on the ‘Energiewende’ (German for energy transition), committing the country to a switch to low-carbon forms of energy by 2050.
In the UK action on climate change has at times been controversial. Recently, we’ve seen moves by the government to ban onshore wind farms, and drastic cuts in financial support for solar and wind.
On the other hand, the Energiewende enjoys broad political support, with almost 9 in 10 Germans polled reportedly in favour, and more than half expressing an interest in owning a share in a community energy project.
According to Marco Gütle, from the German Alliance of Citizen’s Energy (Bündnis Bürger Energie), who we met while in Berlin, the two facts are related: by having a financial stake and being active participants in co-operative and community-owned wind farms and solar projects in their area, local people are more likely to support their development and growth.
- Opposing government cuts to financial support for renewable energy.
- Working to enable UK community energy schemes to supply power direct to consumers.
- Working in local government to support the development of energy generation and energy saving co-ops in our communities.
But it’s not just in supply where a greater voice and involvement supporters is driving change. At the same meeting we also heard from Christoph Rasch, who works for Greenpeace Energy, which is one of Germany’s largest energy consumer co-operatives.
Sharing its name with the environmental NGO, Greenpeace Energy has over 111,000 customers, of which 23,000 are member-owners. Greenpeace Energy is just one of more than 800 energy co-ops in Germany, up from 8 a decade ago, which unlike in the UK can supply energy direct to consumers.
Compare that to a UK energy market in which 90% of all domestic energy is supplied by just 5 huge energy companies, and it’s easy to see why the Energiewende has had so much success.