Recently we reported that, for a highly industrialized country, an impressive 20 percent of Germany’s electricity now comes from renewable resources. Now, even more impressively, it has been pointed out, by Paul Gipe at Wind-Works, that 51 percent of renewable energy generation in Germany is owned by the country’s citizens, not by power utility companies.
The 51 percent owned by individuals and farmers represents a massive $100 billion in private investment in the renewables sector. 40 percent of the 51 percent of renewable energy generation is owned by individuals, and 11 percent is owned by farmers. Only 13 percent is owned by power utilities. The rest is owned by a combination of developers (14%), investment funds (11%), industrial ownership (9%), and “others” (1%).
Germany has a feed-in energy law, the world’s first when it began, which allows citizens, farmers and community groups to install their own renewable energy generation and sell the electricity for profit. This practice started in Bavaria in the south and has spread all the way to the north border with Denmark – another nation known for its progressive renewable energy initiatives.
What’s more, for all the politically conservative renewable energy skeptics out there, the feed-in law was actually enacted by the conservative Helmut Kohl government. Perhaps that’s something for other fossil fuel-entrenched conservative political parties to think about. It’s worth noting that Germany has the EU’s strongest economy. Has Germany’s ongoing push for renewable energy helped it to remain relatively strong is the face of looming economic crisis all around? That’s a question for another day.
In terms of solar power, Germany has the biggest solar energy market in the world, and has installed the largest number of solar panels in the last few years. It’s solar energy boom is continuing into 2012. New solar installations in Germany reached a record 7.5 gigawatts in 2011.
So why is this majority ownership by the people of the country a good thing?
Well, as the overall percentage of renewable energy increases, and it surely will in coming years in many countries, and people generate and own that energy, what we should get is an incredibly powerful democratization of energy.
Instead of the top-down, utility and corporate-owned electricity structure we have had since the widespread use of fossil fuels (and nuclear energy) began, we should move more towards a decentralized, distributed, collaborative, networked structure.
In this scenario, people will be able to generate their own power, store it, and share and sell it to other people in the wider network. It will be no coincidence that this will work much like the internet does today for data. As I’ve said before, I don’t think the power of that distributed, networked model, consisting of millions of individual users/creators, can be underestimated. Many underestimated it with the internet, and it’s proving to be very disruptive to many industries, and will continue to be.
When the concept of this model is brought up, people seem to bring up the technical and economic difficulties describing why it won’t be possible. What I say to this is that the technical difficulties can be overcome with innovation. The cost, or rather investment, can be met over time too. The costs of not doing it will be much greater. Big technological and social changes have happened before, and they will happen again. It just takes the will and innovation to make them happen.
If this is the way it’s going to play out with renewables, Germany is out in front at the moment. A new era of distributed, collaborative, networked renewable energy has begun.
Do you agree that the era of renewable energy is going to play out like this? Perhaps you think the odds are stacked against it, or it will happen another way? What are your thoughts?