51% of all renewable energy in Germany is owned by individual citizens or farms. Can we do that?

There is a lot of talk in the United States about renewable energy sources, especially solar, since the Solyndra debacle last year. In Germany they are doing something different, and succeeding. But not in the United States.

A lot of people here worry. Politicians worry about business competitiveness and government "picking winners and losers" in the market. Fossil fuel companies argue solar PV and wind can't provide the service 24-7 that oil, gas, and coal can. Climate scientists, environmentalists, wildlife observers, and people in movements like Transition Towns worry we aren't ameliorating climate change and preparing for a post-carbon economy. In the northeast where we live, a lot of people think there just isn't enough sun to make it worthwhile, even though Pennsylvania receives about 70% of the sunlight New Mexico does annually. Can Germany provide a model that gets us over that worry?

According to Paul Gipe at Wind Works, "51% of the renewable energy generation is owned by its own citizens." [See chart below for breakdown. Image from Wind Works.] They will be holding a conference for people to learn about the German "Stromeinspeisungsgesetz, literally the "law on feeding in electricity" (to the grid) was introduced by conservative Bavarian farmers frustrated with their utility's intransigence to connecting their small hydro plants with the grid."

He continues,
"The "feed-in" law was passed overwhelmingly by the conservative government of Helmut Kohl, and quickly ushered in a revolution in the way electricity was generated in Germany, spreading rapidly from Bavaria in the south all the way to the Danish border in the north.

Farmers, individuals and community groups could, for the first time, emulate their Danish neighbors by installing their own wind turbines and selling the resulting electricity at a hoped-for profit. These electricity rebels, Stromrebellen as they're called in German, began appearing all across the country, even in the former communist East Germany."

Could there be an opportunity in the United States for community solar or in individual states or communities? First, we are in an economic recession and people are looking for work and construction companies need work. Second, local governments need long-term cost-cutting measures and renewable energy sources can provide that after initial implementation costs. Third, Transition Towns and community organizations are on the rise domestically, many of whom focus on community energy resilience and community food security. Fourth, electricity companies are incentivizing efficiency and paying back homes that feed back to the grid. Maybe we need more collaborations like this.

But there are things like it happening. There are parks in Seattle where pavilions are being outfitted with solar PV. The New Rules Project has created a guide for implementing a local community solar project. Northwest Community Energy works to increase access to solar energy, to reduce up-front costs for participants, improve economies of scale, increase public understanding of solar energy, and generate local jobs. Our former guest, Janaia Donaldson of PeakMomentTV has a 4-disc series called "The Renaissance of the Local" some of which details how to build energy resilience into your community.

Imagine this patchwork of initiatives getting more support. Imagine getting 20% of our energy from renewable community initiatives and half of that owned by you, me, our farmers, and indirectly through outfitting our parks with solar PV. We pool risk through insurance. I think it's time to pool burdens for energy sustainability and a clean environment. The Germans have done it at a large scale. Can we?

How would you contribute to pooling sustainable energy projects?


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