Can Cymru have its own Energiewende?

Naomi Luhde-Thompson says Wales needs it own groundbreaking energy transition,

The ambitious German Energiewende – meaning energy transition – strategy should inspire a new approach to energy in Wales. Energy is also the most popular topic (alongside climate change) of the Wales we want national conversations organised by Cynnal Cymru over the last year.


This week on Click on Wales

This week on Click on Wales we’ll be asking what type of energy policy we want for Wales.
This comes alongside the IWA’s energy summit held yesterday in Cardiff. To catchup on the debate follow the hashtag #energywales.

So what is the German Energiewende? How did it start and why is it important?

Driven by an anti-nuclear agenda and the introduction of the Feed-in-tariff (EEG) in 2008 and consolidated by an almost unanimous political commitment to a series of targets in 2011 including to reduce energy demand – a 50% reduction in primary energy use by 2050 and achieving an 80% renewable electricity share of total consumption by 2050 – the uptake of renewables in Germany has been a dramatic ‘Energiewende’ or energy transition.

The statistics speak for themselves:

  • In early 2012, around 25% of Germany’s power was generated from renewable sources;
  • Costs for wind generated power have fallen by around 50% since 1990;
  • Costs for solar systems has fallen by around 80-90% since 1990;
  • In 2011, over 380,000 people were employed in the renewable energy sources industry
  • Only 13% of Germany’s 60 GW of renewable energy is owned by utiltiies, with the rest being owned by households, communities, and farmers among others;
  • In less than 7 years, an energy market with 4 main suppliers has turned into one with more than a million suppliers;
  • Solar supply has already met peak lunchtime demand on several occasions.

The benefits of the Energiewende are clear –  more local ownership, more jobs, more security of supply and concrete action to tackle climate changing emissions from energy.

However, the differences in the operation of the grid in Germany which means that renewable electricity is used first (the merit order) and that distribution network operators (DNOs) are looking to reduce demand also sets a very different context in comparison to the distribution and use of energy generated in Wales. In addition the level of investment in Germany – for small businesses, households and by local authorities distributed by a network of local banks – is supported by the KfW (state investment bank) to the tune of 23.3 billion euro in the area of environment and climate protection in 2012 alone.

At the Energiewende Cymru/Wales meeting earlier this year with academics, officials, politicians and practitioners, inspired by the German Energiewende, a number of suggestions were made. These included the need for a clear and ambitious vision for Wales, a commitment to approving community-led energy developments on a scale not seen before, and the need to change the way the grid and supply systems operate in Wales to prioritise a locally-led, locally-owned, and locally-supplied renewables revolution.

If these changes were made, do we have the community capacity to build and own our own local renewable energy sources in Wales? Or are the cultural, technical and financial barriers still too great for Wales to have the type of energy transition seen in Germany?

An option for Wales could be a commitment that every single community will be offered the opportunity to own renewable energy within the next 5 years, and that the Welsh Government instigates a programme of reform to tackle the real barriers that exist, taking itself and the country on a different path, one similar to the success story of Germany but building on Wales’ natural resources.

In forging this different path, here are three messages to consider from an advisor to the German Energiewende speaking recently: make it fun, give the public ownership, and work in partnership.

Wales can do all of these things if it wants – and lead the way.

Naomi Luhde-Thompson is Planning Advisor for Friends of the Earth

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