Friday, 25 January 2013

Plugging in to Co-op Energy

The monsoon season that we have endured, the drought in the US and the horrific fires in Australia should make us all realise the terrible price we are paying for relying on fossil fuels to keep warm.
The climate change sceptics in Britain together with huge vested interests within the current political regime mean we have been very slow to define any coherent policy when it comes to developing the renewable energy sector.
The Con-Dem government have done a lot of talking about renewables, particularly Lib-Dem energy and climate secretary Ed Davey, but have been unbelievably slow in driving growth in the sector.
Now it seems that George Osborne is hoping that - like in the US - "fracking" is the answer. Shale gas is what right-wing Tories who hate renewable energy believe is the future.
It seems that George Osborne hopes that shale gas will come to his rescue the way North Sea oil came to Margaret Thatcher's. She spent it all. Norway has banked its share.
Norwegian Statens Pensjonsfond (state pension fund) the place where all surplus from petroleum sales is being deposited.
In the last quarter of 2012 the fund was valued at $654 billion and contained 1 per cent of all global equities. As well as paying for the Norwegian pensions system the fund is managed ethically.
It cannot invest money in companies that directly or indirectly contribute to killing, torture, deprivation of freedom, or other violations of human rights in conflict situations or wars.
When it comes to developing renewable energy there is also another way. Take the German Energiewende - since 1991, while German GDP has increased by 27 per cent, greenhouse gases emissions have been reduced by 24 per cent.
The Renewable Energy Act has stimulated a huge switch in Germany's energy sector, produced 380,000 new jobs and has created the country's largest post-war infrastructure project.
The policy aims to replace both fossil fuel and nuclear with renewables by 2050. It already produces 20 per cent of Germany's electricity which means it is already ahead of schedule on the nuclear phase-out.
There is no doubt that the huge campaigns in Germany against nuclear power - who can forget the yellow stickers "Atomkraft? Nein danke" (Nuclear power? No thank you) - have helped drive the policy.
It is not just about green energy generation but also about cutting consumption. The cost is paid for by higher feed-in tariffs for renewables the Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz (EEG). It is set not to be more than 15 per cent of energy prices which amounts to 0.3 per cent of the income of an average German household. And because of the huge expansion in renewables the costs of the technologies have now started to fall.
The EEG has increased German energy prices, but even with the renewable surcharge prices have risen less than spot energy prices. The Germans also argue that renewables only seem more expensive because they do not have the externalities in terms of pollution and climate change that are excluded from conventional energy bills.
As a co-operator what is exciting about these developments is that when Germany's environment minister Peter Altmaier addressed the countries first-ever congress of energy co-operatives in Berlin last November, he was talking to an audience that was creating a new clean energy co-op every other day.
The co-op sector is one of the Energiewende's key partners. "If all Germans were as engaged as you," he said, "my job would be a lot easier." Locally based co-ops have been hugely popular in recent years, their number tripling since 2010 to some 600 with over 80,000 members.
The sector is now entering a new phase, becoming more professional as it grows in size and scale, moving into onshore wind power production and migrating from rural areas into the big cities like Berlin.
The co-ops cover all aspects of energy generation, from biomass, wind energy and solar power generation to grid operations and distribution. It seems also that once they become established their example encouraged growth at an exponential rate with 42 per cent in Bavaria and 47 per cent in Baden-Wurttmburg.
Not only is this policy engaging citizens in the switchover, it is also incredibly popular. In a recent poll 93 per cent of Germans said that despite the cost the use and development of renewables is "important" or "extremely important."
Not quite the poll ratings that Gorge Osborne will get for his "fracking" adventure.
While we do not have the policy framework of the Germans nor the investment of the Norwegians you can always get your power from Co-op Energy here in Britain - the only provider to cut its prices this winter. I am advocating this as the more members it enlists the cheaper my energy becomes.