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Title: 100 Percent Renewable Energy: Hope for a Change
Meet Hermann Scheer the Father of the 100 Percent Renewable Energy Transformation
Hermann Scheer has given to the world the hopeful idea that we can switch to 100% solar power in the next twenty years. Over the past twenty years this German parliamentarian, author, economist, and visionary created the legislative and economic tools we need to make survival for the human race possible. Scheer offered to the world a way out of the madness of climate change destruction. His Renewable Energy Act creates a sustainable economy and makes democracy possible again. In this and much more Scheer has literally represented the greatest source of light and energy known in solar power for the people.
Hermann Scheer as featured in the documentary video Hope for a Change: Renewable Energy
Hermann Scheer (April 29, 1944 October 14, 2010) was a Social Democrat member of the German Bundestag (Parliament), President of Eurosolar (The European Association for Renewable Energy) and General Chairman of the World Council for Renewable Energy. In 1999, Scheer was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for his "indefatigable work for the promotion of solar energy worldwide".
Scheer believed that the continuation of current patterns of energy supply and use will be environmentally damaging, with renewable energy being the only realistic alternative. Scheer had concluded that it is technically and environmentally feasible to harness enough solar radiation to achieve a total replacement of the foclear (fossil/nuclear) energy system by a global renewable energy economy. The main obstacle to such a change is seen to be political, not technical or economic. In 1999 he was one of the initiators of the German feed-in tariffs that were the major source of the rise of renewable energies in Germany during the following years. (Source: Wikipedia.org)
According to Hermann Scheer the tragedy of our present civilization is that we've become dependent on non-renewable energy sources that pollute our environment. These so called "marginal" energy sources are fossil fuel resources and nuclear based on the raw material uranium. These energy sources are based on very limited resources that will run out, some in the coming decades. On the other hand there is gigantic energy potential in the renewable energy that is always coming from the sun, including derivates, like wind and biomass, organic materials, plants, and hydro-based water power. And the sun offers to our globe, in eight minutes, as much energy as the annual consumption of fossil and atomic energy combined. This means there can be no doubt that we do have enough renewable energy for the replacement of nuclear and fossil energies. To argue otherwise would be ridiculous. There is by far more than enough.
This puts us in a situation where we are running into the conventional energy trap in two directions at the same time. First, we are in the process of depleting conventional energy, faster than many people imagine or want to believe (fossil fuels and uranium). The second limit is an ecological limit, resulting from the negative effects of conventional energies, of nuclear as well as fossil energies, that over-stress the ecosphere destroying life on our planet. We have twenty to twenty-five years to replace these life these destroying fossil and nuclear energy systems, before they destroy us.
The big mistake in the energy debate is that most people think that there is a monopoly of expertise for all energy activities that is im the hands of the existing energy companies. Many people, including governments, and many scientists, who get their orders for studies from existing energy companies, believe that the present energy suppliers, the present energy trusts, the current large multi-national companies should organize the transformation. This is a BIG mistake, a big mistake because this is the part of society that is the only one who has a vested interest in postponing the transformation to renewable energy sources. Only renewable energy sources make sense for society in general. It is only the existing large energy conglomerates that have an interest in pro-longing the energy status quo. Unfortunately as long as government thinks that it should be left to the energy companies, we will lose the race against time and against survival for humanity.
Making the transformation to renewable energy can be achieved as Germany has proven. The critical step about fifteen ago now was the Renewable Energy Act. The Renewable Energy Act was one of Hermann Scheers initiatives, together with only a few of his colleagues in the Parliament.
So what is the Renewable Energy Act. It is a law which gives investment autonomy for anyone who wants to invest in renewables without any obligation for them to ask the power companies for permission. The full name of this law is Law for the Priority of Renewable Energies and it constituted a special renewable energy market with priority and with main three elements:
1. Guaranteed access to the grid for all and for each kilowatt hour produced by renewables, no matter the size or background of the producer.
2. Guaranteed rate for the electricity generated, to ensure investment security.
3. No cap. This creates the investment autonomy, and more and more individual persons, owners of houses, companies, individual companies, cooperatives, local municipalities, and local utilities, become investors.
The results over the past ten years has been a total installation by such investments of 45,000 megawatt renewables (more than enough to power the entire province of Ontario, Canada for instance) entirely with renewables, including PV (photovotaic solar), wind power, biogas, and small hydro. Many independent power players with a total investment of more than a hundred billion euro have now created renewable energy generation projects. At the same time, in comparison, in these ten years the big power companies invested less than ten.
Why you might ask was it such a fight to get this legislation passed in the German parliament? The reason, according to Scheer, is that government behaved like all the governments behave. They feel themselves and act as partners and provide assistance to the conventional power structure. There are many reasons for this. Some politicians believe that there are no alternatives to this cozy relationship. They believe the arguments of the large often multi-national power companies. Others are very closely linked, personally linked, with the power companies and in different ways to corruption. The most comfortable way to corrupt a politician is the method, an illegal method, where they are paid later, after office, after leaving government, then hiring him for the board of directors. And this is very popular in Germany as it is in other countries. This is a very usable way of, lets say, legalized corruption according to Scheer. So all governments become dependent for high paying work from the energy suppliers, because no economy can work without energy. The large monopolies of the conventional power corporation, even in the pervasive thinking that there are no alternatives, this monopoly gives them so much influence, that many governments are puppets, puppets in the hand of these power companies.
Would the United States fit into this category of puppet government? According to Scheer it would. As he says, look what happens when a governor tries to touch the energy sphere, and see how many conflicts he will run into. Take a look at American history. The most successful one to fight with these energy trusts and energy special interests was Theodore Roosevelt. He destroyed the Standard Oil cartel (what became Exxon) and separated it in different parts. He fought against them because they endangered American society, they endangered the public interest, they became too strong, stronger than government, and this is not tolerable in a real democracy. And he was totally right.
Clinton tried to introduce a kind of eco-tax the first year of his presidency. Big Oil and others including Big Coal, tried to influence Congress members of the Democratic Party in their electorate by saying "If you vote for that, then we will make a campaign against you in your next election campaign," says Scheer. In different ways, the big energy companies tried to influence politicans, and therefore Clinton didn't get a majority for his eco-tax program. And the same thing is happening again now. According to Sheer, I believe President Obama wants to organize a shift to renewables, but the resistance against this is very brutal.
Jimmy Carter was the same story. Jimmy Carter tried to do it, but then he got so much opposition against this by the energy cartels and their influence into the political structure in the Senate, in the House of Representatives, that he could not push it through.
"Solar energy is the energy of the people. To use this energy does not require big investments of only a few corporations." Decentralized renewable is a far superior, more reliable, more resilient, and less costly system. Can solar really be enough energy for all that we do today? According to Scheer yes, although this seems like a fantasy, because one panel is so small, and produces a relatively small amount of electricity. However, if you need more energy, you make more panels. It scales very well. Where is the problem? It is very easy to show how it can work with a mix of available renewable energies. In fact it can work anywhere in the world. One hundred percent of every thing we do can be powered by renewable energy. The benefit for the local producers, in the shift to renewable energy, is tremendous. There is also a unique political advantage to come with energy independence, where when big democratic states like the United States, the worlds super power, with the greatest political power in the world now, must "behave like a beggar when they go to the king of Saudi Arabia", who represents a feudalistic regime of the Middle Age, in order to have good relations for getting all oil required by the United States. This is against any dignity or independence. With this level of energy dependence nothing works. It must be a politicians main political aim, to come to energy independence, to overcome the current irresponsible dependence, which will cost much more over time as the reserves are rapidly depleted creating economic chaos. More than one-third of the American defense budget is provided for protecting the oil and the energy import pipelines and shipping lines.
The Gulf War would not have happened, nor would the Iraq war have happened, if there had been a plantation of bananas in Iraq instead of the extraction of oil. This kind of relationship to very dubious regimes in oil producing countries, most of them are not democratic, is, again, against any values we have.
In Germany nobody speaks against renewable energies any more. Despite all the disinformation campaigns, 90 percent of the people here, based on scientific polling analysis and inspired by and encouraged by the these obvious visible results in the last ten years are now finding 90 percent want to have a general change 100% to renewables. Seventy-five percent want to have this in their district or not far away from their community. Less than ten percent are willing to accept new coal power stations. Less than ten percent would accept a new nuclear power stations. Only 30 percent are will to wait for the existing coal/nuclear power stations to be shut down.
Change to renewable energy must come from the local level, from the regional level, from the state level, from the municipal level, because it is in fact a revolution, a technological revolution, an economic revolution and a democratic revolution.
There is an example that may help people understand this coming renewable energy technological revolution. This is the information technology revolution, because the information systems experts, the big information technology companies, like IBM, they thought, twenty-five years ago, that the future of information technology would be in highly centralized computers, called mainframes. They were the experts at the time like our energy experts today who work for energy companies that profit from large centralized energy generation systems. And yet, IBM totally underestimated what would happen if there was a shift, caused by the technological possibilities from new small startups (like Apple and Microsoft). The creation and wide adoption of the personal computer made possible by Apple, suddenly everybody could own their own computer (rather that expensive time sharing on a mainframe). This type of technological transformation changes everything and the same will happen, must happen, with renewable energies. In fact the same economic principle that sees the cost of personal computer processing power coming down consistently ever year will also apply to the processes for improving the production of energy with renewable energy systems.
This is a structural fight in a technological revolution that will transform society. It is a fight between centralization (the current energy system) and decentralization (renewables), between energy dictatorship and energy participation, for the energy democracy to come. Nothing works without energy. It's a fight between democratic values and technocratic values. Therefore, the mobilization of society is the most important thing. As soon as society, most people (like you and me), have recognized that the alternative renewable energies work so well, and realize that we must not wait for others (like the big energy companies), since we can do it by on our own, in our own sphere, in our own back yards, together in cooperatives, in the cities or individually. As soon as we recognize this, we will become supporters. This is the reason why Germany now has a 90 percent support rate against all the disinformation campaigns. Despite the immense power of conventional oil/nuclear companies who have much more money and therefore ability to influence public opinion, they have lost the war in Germany.
Obama has lost his way because he has no majority. He must fight for a majority, in various fields, down at the state and community level. The main work required of politicians to support the energy revolution towards renewable energy is to open the space to create investment autonomy for renewables. This is the critical step as it overcomes so many direct and indirect administrative and bureaucratic barriers, which hinder people from switching to renewables. Currently this lack of investment autonomy prevents windmills from getting permission to build in the countryside or getting added to rooftops in the city. There are many hidden rules favoring conventional centralized energy systems and blocking decentralized renewable energy. To overcome this requires political decisions.
In his new books Scheer shows that there are not only heavy economic reasons to shift to renewable energies but it is also an ethical imperative if we want to keep human society alive on earth.
Energy dependence that exists now, even within the big democratic states means, for instance, that America is not independent nor are the European democracies. No, in order to remain viable European and American countries must occupy the oil producing states or take care about them. This is an unbelievable and unworkable situation. It endangers democracy in that this situation of energy dependence endangers democratic constitutions. Democratic constitution mean self-determination of a society, political self-determination of society. The question becomes how can a society self-determine if the lifeblood of all activities are coming from another country? No, in the current situation powerful states have become dependent upon oil producing countries for their very existence.
Look at third-world countries to see how the current energy and economic system operates. Third-world countries have to pay more for the import of oil than their entire total export income. That means it's over for these countries. If they want to grow their economy, they need more energy. They can't grow their economy as their export income is taken up more and more by the cost to import oil. Once you understand this you understand that this energy problem, the environmental problems, the economic problems associated with the energy problem, then you realize it is an ethical problem. To help countries where the economy continues to decline means switching to indigenous local renewable energy. This is their only economic chance. If they don't switch to renewable energy they will become poorer and poorer. Therefore, it is not only a question about energy consumption it is also a question of economic development. It is about people in poor countries who are affected by the current economic system. It's a question of democracy and the survival of democracies. It's a question for overcoming the third-world crises. And it is a decision we need to make to keep basic human rights, values and ethics.
Hope exists in our ability to set an example. In addition, we must enlighten other people, and show them how easy, cost effective and powerful it is to switch to 100% renewable energy. By showing others that we can democratize work with a switch to 100% renewable energy we create an ethical existence for ourselves. There is hope in the example set by Germany now where more than a hundred cities are powered by renewable energy and counties in Germany that have decided to shift to 100 percent renewable energy in just the last five, ten, fifteen years. The number of cities who want to go this way increases from month to month. This is a real democratic revolution created by the user of solar (in the form of solar, wind, hydro and biomass).
With the Renewable Energy Act, the people of Germany created an energy investment opportunity, that provided individuals and groups investment autonomy for development of renewable energy. This has created the demand for more and more solar technologies and wind power technologies. This increasing and stable demand has enabled the industrial base to grow, creating new industrial companies for the production of renewable energy generating equipment. A new movement started. Ecologically, economically, and democratically, and a new enthusiasm was created. People began to truly believe that switching to 100 percent renewable energy was possible and this motivates many people. It has given people hope. Knowing that these large problems can be resolved by concrete action that we all can all make means that there is hope for all. We don't have to wait for the UN, or our federal governments, we can get to work right now putting up renewable energy systems and it will lead to 100% renewables especially if we use the feed-in tariff system that Germany has adopted.
AMY GOODMAN: Were broadcasting today from San Francisco. And we were planning to spend the hour today with the author and philosopher Derrick Jensen, here in California for a big eventjust before a big event he was having tomorrow here in California. But just before we went on air, we learned of the death of Hermann Scheer. He is a pioneering German politician and economist who helped make Germany a renewable energy powerhouse. Hermann Scheer died last night in Berlin at the age of sixty-six.
Scheer had been member of the German Parliament for three decades and was the president of EUROSOLAR, the European Association for Renewable Energy. He was also the general chair of the World Council for Renewable Energy. His books on solar energy include The Solar Economy: Renewable Energy for a Sustainable Global Future and Energy Autonomy: The Economic, Social and Technological Case for Renewable Energy.
In 1999, Hermann Scheer won the Right Livelihood Award for his, quote, well, "indefatigable"tireless"work for the promotion of solar energy worldwide." When he receieved the award, he described solar energy as "the energy of the people." Jakob von Uexkull, the founder of the Right Livelihood Award, said today, quote, "Hermann Scheer has been the worlds most powerful advocate for renewable energy during the last two decades. His personal commitment and his incomparable campaigning spirit will continue to encourage many policy-makers, experts and citizens around the world to fight for a world without fossil fuel or nuclear.
TIME magazine named Hermann Scheer "Hero for the Green Century."
Well, just a few weeks ago, I had a chance to sit down with Hermann Scheer in Bonn, Germany, at the thirtieth anniversary of the Right Livelihood Awards. Oh, I mean, the interview was cancelled several times. First he missed his plane, and then he was being interviewed by one person after another. But finally, we sat down with the member of Parliament from Germany, with Hermann Scheer. It turned out to be one of his last interviews. He began by outlining what he sees as the defining problem of the current energy crisis.
HERMANN SCHEER: The tragedy of our present civilization is that it became dependent on marginal energy sources. The marginal energy sources are fossil sources, fossil resources and nuclear, based on the raw material uranium. The gigantic energy potential is the renewable energy potential always all coming from the sun, including its derivates, like wind and the photosynthetic-producedphotosynthetically produced materials, organic materials, plants, hydro-base. And the sun offers to our globe, in eight minutes, as much energy as the annual consumption of fossil and atomic energy is. That means to doubtthe doubtings if there would be enough renewable energy for the replacement of nuclear and fossil energies, this argument is ridiculous. There is by far enough.
And therefore we are in a situation running into a conventional energy trap in two directions at the same time. First, we are in a process of the coming depletion of conventional energies, faster than many people imagineor want to believe. And the second limit is an ecological limit, because the negative effects of conventional energies, of nuclear as well as fossil energies in different ways, overstress the ecosphere. That means the life conditions. And it is an open question, and it is not necessary to give an answer to that. It is an open question which limit of the conventional energy systems is closer to our time. Even if there would be much more potential, much more conventional energy reserves, it would not help, because we would arrive at the ecological limit, and we are practically at the bottom crossing this ecological limit. Therefore, we can only recognize, and we must recognize, we have to replace the conventional energies consumption not only in the future at a specific time, we have to recognize it in the run of the next twenty to twenty-five years. This is the main challenge of civilization, to do that.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you do it?
HERMANN SCHEER: The big mistake in the energy debate is that most people think, because they believe that there is a monopoly and the expertise for all energy activities in the hand of the existing energy players. Many people, including governments, including many scientists, who get their orders for studies from them, they believe and think that the present energy suppliers, the present energy trusts, the companies, they should organize the transformation. And this is a big mistakea big mistakebecause this part of the society is the only one who has an interest to postpone it. The only one. All others, all the others, have an interest to speed it up. But as long government think that it should be left to the energy companies, we will lose the race against time.
AMY GOODMAN: The Financial Times says German photovoltaic cell installations last year amounted to more than one-half of those in the world.
HERMANN SCHEER: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you make that happen?
HERMANN SCHEER: With the Renewable Energy Act. The Renewable Energy Act was one of my initiatives, together with only a few colleagues in the Parliament. And it was not a draft of the government, because the government was against. We mobilized the measureit was the Parliamentagainst the will of the government, to introduce this law and to adopt it. It is a law which gives investment autonomy for all who want to invest for renewables. Without any obligation for them to ask the power companies if this is, lets say, compatible with their energy investments, they could do it. The full name of this law is Law for the Priority of Renewable Energies.
And it constituted a special renewable energy market with priority and with three elements. The first element is a guaranteed access to the grid for allfor each kilowatt hour produced by renewables, apart from the question who is the producers. The second element is a guaranteed fee for that, because without that, there could notthere would be no investment security. That means we made an obligation to give them a fee, and we enumerated this fee, very precise, andin order to avoid discrimination. The third element is no cap. No cap for that. And this created the investment autonomy, and more and more individual persons, owners of houses, companies, individual companies, cooperatives, local municipalities, local utilities, they became the investors. And in the run of ten years, there was the total installation by such investments of 45,000 megawatt renewablesall renewables, PV, wind power, photovoltaics, wind power, biogas, small hydro, independent power players, many of them, and with a total investment of more than a hundred billion euro. And to make a comparison, in these ten years the big power companies invested less than ten.
AMY GOODMAN: German economist and member of the German Parliament for the last thirty years, Hermann Scheer. We spoke to him just a few weeks ago in Bonn, Germany. Hermann Scheer died unexpectedly last night in Berlin at the age of sixty-six. And so, we are bringing you this interview with him for the hour, one of his last.
AMY GOODMAN: Were on the road in San Francisco. Im Amy Goodman. And we just got word that Hermann Scheer has died. He was a member of the German Parliament for the last thirty years, known as a great ecological force. We werent planning to bring you this interview today. We had told you we would be interviewing the philosopher, the environmentalist Derrick Jensen, because Derrick is having a major event tomorrow called "Earth at Risk" at Seven Hills Conference Center at San Francisco State University. But when we got word just before this broadcast of the unexpected death of the German parliamentarian Hermann Scheerhe died last night in Berlin at the age of sixty-sixwe knew we had to bring you the Scheer truth. We had to introduce you to, if you havent already know him, Hermann Scheer. TIME magazine called him the "Hero] of the Green Century." When we interviewed him in Bonn, first he cancelled, then he missed his plane, then we sat down with him.
AMY GOODMAN: Why was the government so opposed? Why did you have to take on the corporations and the government?
HERMANN SCHEER: The government behaved like all the governments behave. They feel themselves and they act as partners and assistants of the conventional power structure. This has many reasons. Some believesome politicians believe that there would be no alternative. They believe the arguments. Others are very closely linked, personally linked, with the power companies and in different ways of corruption. The most comfortable way to corrupt a politician is the method, illegal method, to pay them later, after officeafter office, after leaving government, then hiring him for the board. And this is very popular here, a very usable way of, lets say, legalized corruption. And the thinking of all governments that they are dependent from the work of the energy supplier, because no economy can work without energy. And the monopoly of the conventional power, even in the thinking that there would be no alternative, this monopoly gave them so much influence, so much influence, that many governments are puppets, governors are puppets in the hand of these power companies.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you put the United States into that category?
HERMANN SCHEER: In the same category. Look what happens when a governor tried to touch this sphere, how many conflicts he had. I know the American history very well. The most successful one to fight with these energy trust interests was Theodore Roosevelt. He destroyed Exxon and separated it in different parts.
AMY GOODMAN: He broke up the Standard Oil cartel, the predecessor to Exxon.
HERMANN SCHEER: Yes, Standard Oil. He broke up the Standard Oil Company. He fighted against, because this endangers the society. This endangers the public interest, yeah? They become too strong, stronger than government, and this is not tolerable. And he was totally right.
And all who followed this examplethe next who tried to do it was Clinton, but he gave up very earlyvery earlybecause he wantedhis first step was to introduce a kind of eco-tax the first year of his presidency. And Big Oil and others and Big Coal, they tried to influence the Congress members of the Democratic Party in their electorate"If you vote for that, then we make a campaign against you in your next election campaign," and so forth. In different ways, they tried to influence them, and therefore Clinton didnt get a majority for that. And the same happens now. I believe President Obama, that he wants to organize a shift, but the resistance against this is very brutal. Very brutal.
AMY GOODMAN: Small, perhaps, symbolic thing in the last weekswell, Jimmy Carter in 1979 put photovoltaics
HERMANN SCHEER: Jimmy Carter, the same. Jimmy Carter, yeah. Jimmy Carter was the same story. Jimmy Carter tried to do it, but then he got so much opposition against this in theby the energy cartels and their influence into the political structure in the Senate, in the House of Representatives, that he could not push it through, really.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, he did put solar panels on the White House at the end of the 1970s.
HERMANN SCHEER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Reagan took them down.
HERMANN SCHEER: Not at the end, it was. He installed solarsolar
AMY GOODMAN: Panels.
HERMANN SCHEER: Notyeah, solar panel. He installed the solar panel. Its