Book review: How Germany’s energy revolution solves more than just climate change

The first chapter of Energy Democracy is titled ‘Energiewende: The Solution to More Problems than Climate Change’.

This sets the tone of the book – for the success of Germany’s energy transition (‘Energiewende’) project lies not just in the fact that it is helping to drive the country towards renewables at an astonishing rate, but that by involving citizens in the creation and ownership of energy, community cohesion and democracy is also getting a boost.

As the result of the Energiewende, there are now over 1,000 energy co-operatives in Germany, and the scheme has been very successful in driving down the prices of renewables. It has also been integral in public (self) education. “The Germans are teaching themselves and each other about energy and politics, thereby developing skills that could be useful in the future,” write the authors.

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But, they warn, citizen involvement must remain at the heart of the initiative, if the Energiewende is to succeed in more than just headline figures (targets includes greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions of 80–95% by 2050 (relative to 1990) and a renewable energy target of 60% by 2050).

“If Germany reaches its official targets for 2050, but does so primarily with utility projects, sidelining public participation in the process, then the original spirit of the Energiewende – the driving force since the 1970s – will have been lost.”

From the author…

Arne Jungjohann on how democracy in Germany is the true Energiewende success story

The Energiewende (Energy Transition) is the transition by Germany to an affordable, low carbon energy supply. But it “gets a lot of attention for wrong reasons,” says Arne Jungjohann, who co-authored Energy Democracy: Germany’s Energiewende to Renewables with Craig Morris.

Arne Jungjohann says the policy has been a success

What is special – and often overlooked – is that the Energiewende is not only a technical shift, but also one in terms of politics, culture and ownership. The reason for this is that Germany’s state of democracy is “in very good health”.

Federalism in Germany divides authority between the federal government and the states, and has a character of rewarding compromise. Coalition governments are the norm – so, says Mr Jungjohann, “your political enemy also has to be considered as a partner who you work with in making things happen”. This political culture has two effects.

“Firstly, there has to be broad consensus; for example consensus that climate change is real, that we must take responsibility and ramp up renewables. All Germany’s climate targets were agreed by all parties.

“Secondly, such an agreement generates political certainty, – which translates into investment certainty. In the case of renewables, businesses know that with a new government, there won’t be any radical changes in terms of policy – because it has been agreed by everyone.”

But it’s not just a government initiative: communities have been central to the Energiewende from the start.

Its origins can be traced back to the 1970s when rural communities stood up and fought the construction of nuclear power plants, against big corporations and politicians who acted in an authoritarian manner.

“Thus,” he says, “in Germany the fight for renewables has always been a fight for a better democracy.”