|Renewable Energy in America 2006|
Speech of Dr. Hermann Scheer, President of EUROSOLAR, ACORE Conference "Renewable Energy in America: Phase II Market Forecasts and Policy Requirements", Washington, November 30th, 2006
Dear friends, by reviewing the state of the global energy supply, I can identify a good news and a bad news: The bad news is: oil reserves are running out. The good news is: oil reserves are running out. John Rockefeller, the first and most famous oil-tycoon in the history of oil defined oil in one of his bright moments as “tears of the devil”. This oracle has turned into reality. It is good news, because we are faced with another time limit, which is closer than the time limit of the other depleting non-renewable energy reserves. The biosphere including humankind is already overstressed. We are not allowed to burn off all the known reserves. That means: we are in a race against time. We have to change the world energy basis in the next few decades from polluting and finite to solely clean and sustainable energies – the renewable ones.
There is no more doubt: we are at a turning point. For this inconvenient truth, we nevertheless have a splendid alternative: Renewable energies create so many benefits and new hopes for our societies that they present much more than simply the last chance that we have to take. They are the best possible choice.
Al Gore’s movie thrills the public. This creates a momentum. Big challenges require big and adequate answers. If people are left alone with the awareness of a gigantic danger, they get angry and believe that there is no perspective for a good common future. They adopt no-future-mentalities; nihilistic thinking and attitudes grow. The statement, that there exist no overall alternatives to conventional energy supplies is therefore a spiritual pollution of peoples’ minds. They can only be activated against these dangers if we are able to demonstrate convincing solutions to overcome the fossil and atomic age. To succeed in this task is the first and foremost objective of all Renewable Energy advocates.
My speech is on the real state of the art of Renewable Energies within the global energy system and the environmental and economic policies. That means to speak about the facts and fictions concerning Renewables.
Fact is that everybody speaks in favour of Renewable Energies nowadays. As much as the sun shines down on each and every one of us, every government and every big energy shot promises and introduces itself as close friend of Renewable Energy. But this only demonstrates the fact that they can no longer ignore this viable future option as they did for a long time. This does not indicate that they are really proactive for Renewable Energies. Is it their first, second, third or maybe even last political “priority”? Do they rank it high on their political agenda, within their international organisation or the investment strategy of their energy company?
We have to take a look behind the words and identify those, who pay only lip service. Lip services cloud the brain of the people and lull them into the false impression that the issues are in the right hands – in the hands of those who will do whatever is possible and necessary for the promotion of Renewables.
But fact is that this does not hold true. Worldwide, there are only a few front running states with an outstanding practical commitment for Renewable Energies. We can count them by merely using the fingers of one hand. They demonstrate how and by whom a dynamic expansion of Renewables is a mission possible. Among the companies who are committed to Renewable Energies, no big transnational company can be found. In Germany, we have three new firms who have a larger PV-production capacity than BP worldwide. Siemens left this business after pocketing more government money for PV research and development than all the other companies combined. The new firms again sped up the production of larger quantities with higher productivity because they are free from the vested interest in fossil and atomic energy. In Germany we already have a capacity of 20.000 MW wind power, from 60.000 MW worldwide, installed on only 220.000 square miles. And in the year 2005 a total 50% of the annual world production of PV modules was installed in my country. We created 170.000 new jobs.
And the total annual investment for Renewables in the electric power sector in Germany is eight Billion Dollar - that is more than the four big conventional power companies invest for non-renewable energies. And, most importantly: more than 90% of the Renewable Energy investment is made by small private and municipal power players and not by the four big ones. This shows clearly which kind of action is needed. We have to leave space for new players, who join the energy field. We should not wait in vain for new strategies of the big conventional power players. The existing energy system – that means: the conventional energy economy as a whole – is not neutral regarding different energy options. Moreover: each energy system has to be tailored to the chosen energy sources, following their entire energy flow – from their places of mining or extracting to the places of energy consumption. One has in fact only one choice: that is the choice of a specific energy source. This choice determines, if mining or extraction technologies are necessary, which kind of infrastructure for the transportation of primary energy must be employed, which conversion technologies and which distribution is needed. For decades, a total of more than 400 Billion Dollar of annual investment went into the existing world energy system. It created long energy chains from a few giant oil fields in a handful of countries to billions of customers worldwide. This chain can only be organized by multinational corporations who in turn become imprisoned by their own chain: It is impossible to come to a specific point in time, when all existing investments get their pay-back at the same time. That is why the multinational corporations tend to continue their business as long as possible. They all know, that the time of a turn to a Renewable Energy age will come, even for them. They tend to postpone this shift. This is intolerable for our societies.
Renewable Energies have a totally different flow. We find them everywhere: We will be able to link the sites of energy harvesting and energy consumption again. This will result in energy autonomy and the overcoming of global energy conflicts. There will be more equality and less poverty in the world, if the shift to Renewable Energy is implemented everywhere. Sun and wind are non-commercial energies, they do not send a bill.
The last G8 summit once again tried to postpone the issue - recommended by the two IGOs in the energy field: the IAEA and the IEA. The summit called for new oil and gas promotion technologies and for an atomic renaissance - including the dream of a future option of atomic fusion. But whoever aims at the worldwide revival of nuclear power has to cope with the increasing dangers of the proliferation of atomic weapons. These partisans of the nuclear “option” should tell the truth about atomic power: because of the scarcity of uranium reserves, fast breeder reactors have to be built and made ready for use. But no one has so far been able to construct a single functioning reactor of this type. And should this be achieved one day in the future, the energy being generated in the fast breeder would be much more expensive than Renewable Energy. Moreover: mankind can’t wait as long as mid-century for nuclear fusion - and even if they succeeded with this specific technology, nobody will want it. Again it would cost much more than the promotion of Renewable Energies.
Even the protagonists of clean coal promise a “new option” without telling the truth about it. They calm the public by promising the development of so called clean coal technologies but they cannot give a straightforward and responsible answer as to where the sequestered CO2 should be stored. If it is stored in the ocean, new tremendous climate risks will emerge. And if it is stored in caverns in the ground, it has to be secured there forever, like nuclear waste. Because it can never be allowed to leak into the atmosphere.
The ambition behind such strategies is to keep the existing supply monopolies in the hands of a few big international power players and out of the reach of the democratic control of our societies. That is why we are faced with a green washing of black energies. These attempts use existing mental barriers in peoples’ minds against Renewable Energy: Renewable Energies do not have enough potential to completely replace nuclear and fossil energies, their increased introduction will be too expensive and will require unaffordable subsidies, Renewable Energies technologies will need a long time to be fully operational.
These arguments are wrong.
Fact is: The total subsidy for fossil and nuclear energy is about 500 billion dollar per year, 10 times more than what has been spent for Renewable Energies in the last 20 years.
Fact is: Nothing can be installed faster than Renewable Energy: A windmill can be erected within one week, a large fossil or nuclear power plant only after several years.
Fact is: To overcome these mental barriers, it is necessary to demonstrate that Renewables can substitute fossil and atomic energies completely. If people recognise this, they will call for forceful and immediate strategies. To respect human values, it is necessary to debate Renewable Energy not only by comparing costs. Human values are never competitive economically. We should not leave the issue only to energy technocrats and economists. It concerns the active societies worldwide. Dürrenmatt said in The Physicists: “The method of physics is only of concern to physicists, its impact concerns everyone. What concerns everyone is something only all of us can solve.”
Fact is finally: We should not wait for international treaties. Experience gained from international governmental conferences over the last 35 years shows that these events always follow the hidden motto: “Talk globally, postpone nationally”. Their participants always have to reach a consensus. But an unbridgeable gap exists between consensus and acceleration. In history, no example of a breakthrough of a new technology can be found which has been promoted by an international treaty. The common rule is: be faster than others, because the speediest will have most opportunities. Why not in the case of Renewable Energy technology?
Renewable Energy requires frontrunners – in the spheres of technology, industry, national and international policy. Internationally there is a very strong need to establish an International Renewable Energy Agency, an IRENA. The IAEA as well as the IEA have are obviously biased in favour of nuclear and fossil energy. As a consequence, Renewables need to have their proper public international advocate. To support the establishment of this IRENA, it is imperative to build a new “coalition of the willing”. The German government in its coalition program, inspired by me, initiated the establishment of this agency. If the US government joined the group, this agency will be available within short.
My main recommendation for today is: Do everything you can, to have the US join the frontrunners for Renewable Energy – for your countries’ and the worlds’ benefit.
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