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

7 thoughts on “Can Cymru have its own Energiewende?

  1. The energy summit yesterday highlighted the need for a vision we could all share. The ‘don’t bother we are too small” statements were rife from oil and LNG. But the lack of clarity, conviction and leadership accross all levels stood out in terms of “we need a plan” . In the C19 Wales powered the industrial world with its steam coal. We currently talk big with layers of strategies but we now need to act big. We can always find barriers why we can’t, should not and “we don’t have the powers”. But why would we need these new political powers if we don’t have a clear plan of what we would do with them? YnNI (our energy and “it’s in us” to do it) is a word used by many community energy group and I think it encapsulates the ambition needed but this is currently a minuscule seedling of a movement. There many barriers at all levels to delivering an YnNI plan but it’s a mater of application and ambition. Naive? Probably but all changes seem so when moving from a certain path. We need more YnNI at a political and institutional level. Even if we only deliver a small energiewende it’s could start something bigger and foster the one thing we are missing in Wales. Confidence! In the words of Obama who I think must have taken it from the even more famous Bob the builder “yes we can” … At least try to avoid what’s coming if we carry on as we are

  2. Yes we can-and it will lead us where??. We cannot even organize the cutting and collection of grass on our a)main roads,b) tiny strips of grass in tidy middle class areas!!. Does the writer and the rest of the ‘green’ community understand that we live in a cut throat/globalized economy and its the ‘surplus’ from private industry/services that funds ALL our public services.It is hard to believe that British engineers/finance developed the whole this country,and in recent times provided the first atomic power station in the world. We have allowed the ‘lunatics’ to take over and this is another example of mis placed thinking,rather than the UK government getting on with the job of providing the infrastructure that we need to survive.Meanwhile back in Germany much of capital investment is moving to USA as energy prices far too high and some people think that it could become the next ‘basket case’ which is not a happy thought for rest of EUROPA!!

  3. Not sure if Cymru can have its version of Energiewende but Wales could if promoted in a right and an imaginative way but it needs education and a mind set for the ‘green world’ that in my view most of Welsh people do not have as of now.

    As Germany played a significant part of my life through close family ties I do know them exceptionally well and over time have learned to value their approach to environment and the green issues.

    German green credentials go back for generations now and a lot of it stems from their education and vision of creating a healthier and a better world which sadly does not exist in Wales and especially not within its lopsided educational priorities that again have some Germanic connotation but from the pre WW II period!

    Successive UK Government have done little for the green energy promotion and it’s only of recent that we are seeing some effort put into this direction and perhaps Wales could become a UK leader in this field if it can find time outside its foremost priority of Socially Engineering Welsh society – Case in point why is the initiative called Cynnal Cymru when 80% of Welsh population live in WALES!?

  4. We endorse the idea of an energy revolution in Wales. Opinion polls consistently point to massive levels of public support for all forms of renewable energy, so in this respect, we are being failed by our political leaders who are not standing up and making the case to the same extent.

    Public sector bodies, currently feeling the pain from swingeing cuts, have a great opportunity to benefit from the income generation which arises from hosting, part-owning, or fully owning renewable energy generating plant. If it works for private investors, it’s a no-brainer for the public sector which is having to swing the axe at its own staff, and at ‘luxury’ facilities such as libraries and swimming pools.

    We look forward to seeing how the recently-announced £5m green growth fund will be used to unlock this potential, but the key ingredient which has been missing for too long has been political leadership. Industry has not helped with its historic lack of resource in representing the sector, but the last 2 years has seen a large change in that representation. It’s time for the politicians to step up to the plate.

  5. a brilliant article – givng a vision of an energy self sufficient wales, and a vision of a wales in which the horrors of nuclear power and fracking will be banished. if the political will is there there’s no reason why this vision cant be turned into reality.

  6. Reality check – see ‘The botched Energiewende’ from section 2 in Der Spiegel

    Not to mention

    The IWA seems to have become a follower of the green religion. All these ideas may seem very good but in the real world, until there are reliable methods of energy storage and the infra-structure to go with it are in place, renewables will not be the answer to anything.

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