A Philippine ‘Energiewende’
Hong Kong—Germany is well-recognized as an international powerhouse in its relentless focus on sustainable energy transitions: replacing coal and nuclear power with renewables. The Germans call it Energiewende. With the future of energy now committed to an age of sustainable energy, the transition to renewable energy systems, coupled with large-scale harvesting of energy efficiency potentials, is becoming a necessity. You do the transition, you win; you don’t, you lose. For this reason, many want to emulate Germany. But, can other countries, such as the Philippines, do their own Energiewende?
Germany is obviously politically, economically and socially different. However, there are traces of Energiewende that highlight opportunities other countries, including ours, are missing.
Energiewende can be mapped back in the late 1970s when German communities abhorred the construction of nuclear and coal-fired power plants in their backyards. Over the next five years, many Germans, across the political spectrum, protested against these technologies. In 1986, the widely read Der Spiegel published a provocative cover image of the Cologne Cathedral half-submerged in water due to climate change. Their neighboring Ukraine also suffered with the Chernobyl accident. These series of events collectively produced a German public that became more particularly sensitive to socioenvironmental vulnerabilities.
In hindsight, Energiewende started, therefore, strictly not in terms of technology change, but—it can be argued—by changing the collective German mindset. The national psyche was primed for the transition to renewables such that recent commitments to achieve 100-percent renewable energy sourcing as quickly as possible have received support from a vast majority of Germans.
Actual sociotechnical change began in earnest. This started small—in households, communities, local governments. With energy generation opened up for more democratic engagement, citizens organized and managed energy cooperatives to generate their own renewable energy. Coops blossomed around Germany such that their numbers rose from 66 in 2001 to 700 in 2012.
Coops provide everyone the opportunity to easily own a slice of the energy business. Proving to be financially attractive, millions of Germans now build their retirement nest eggs by individually or collectively owning a share of wind and solar power plants that supply clean energy to their communities. In 2013, community-owned renewable energy projects were estimated to leverage more than $2 billion in investments from more than 150,000 private citizens. With investments diverted from distant companies to local ones, benefits successfully multiplied throughout the German local economy.
Political support also helped the emergence of citizen ownership in energy generation. The government guaranteed small-scale generators with set prices and grid access, while stipulating that distribution companies purchase their power first. This keystone policy made it possible for smaller providers, particularly energy coops, to enter the energy market. As a consequence, community energy investment has grown exponentially. Farmers, households and coops now own close to 60 percent of all renewable energy installations in Germany.
For a Philippine Energiewende, we first need equally big policy support to extensively open up our energy market for smaller investors. We might be lucky since we already have energy coops scattered around the country. Maybe it’s high time we transformed them into energy generators, and let ordinary Filipinos invest in them.
In parallel, however, we must not forget another Energiewende lesson: changing mindsets. That could be more challenging.
Dr. Laurence Delina (email@example.com), from South Cotabato, is a sustainability scientist at Boston University, where he leads the future of energy research project. His latest book is “Strategies for Rapid Climate Mitigation: war mobilisation as model for action?” from Routledge-Earthscan.
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