Special Reports / Liberty, climate, electricity!

Energiewende consumer – a slave

Wojciech Jakóbik · 28 May 2013
transformation of the German energy consumers into prosumers. Independent energy producers were to cater for themselves and sell the surplus to the public network. The need for becoming independent from the depleting and ever more expensive fossil fuels was being emphasized, along with the energy empowerment of the German citizens. Today those ideals have been completely betrayed in Germany.

Today, the Energiewende is being implemented from the top down, through a centrally planned program of subsidies, while disregarding the will of German energy consumers, who pay the highest bills in Europe, right after the Danes. The minister of the environment of the Federal Republic, Peter Altmeier, suggested, that by 2040 the costs of Energiewende can reach even a trillion euros. Environmental groups like for example the non-governmental organization Agora Energiewende, are looking for solutions to reduce the costs of the energy revolution, but more and more attention is paid to mega-scale projects like DESERTEC in the Sahara desert.

Foreign reactors paid for by the public’s money

The energy turnaround’s plan has also been criticized by the EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger. He claims that the final phase out of nuclear energy by 2022 will lead to a situation where Germans will still be using nuclear energy – however produced with reactors which are situated outside the Federal borders. Since the passing of the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), the sums on energy bills have been rising faster than the inflation rate. What is more, since the plan was announced, the use of coal in Germany rose by 4.9 percent. And so, phasing out nuclear energy, means Germans are opting for the cheap coal alongside RES. Furthermore, the German Energy Agency points out, that for accomplishing Energiewende’s goals, there will be several dozen gas and coal plants needed in the country. Fossil fuel powered plants are to be an alternative during the periodic interruptions in RES supply, which can happen with a sudden change in weather. Electricity imports are another alternative.

Critics of the energy turnaround emphasize, that because of the support schemes, its burden is being mostly carried by the general citizenry. Prosumer ideals remain unrealized, contrary to the interests of particular lobbies, like the producers of solar panels and wind turbines. It is worth noting that the turnaround is also supported by the European Commission, promoting the intervention on the carbon-dioxide emissions allowance market (Emission Trading Scheme – ETS), called backloading. The bureaucrats from Brussels decided that the allowances are too cheap, and therefor do not create an incentive to depart from “dirty” fossil fuels. That is why they want to artificially raise their price, temporarily removing some allowances from the market. The goal of that deeply non-market move is the increase of costs in conventional energy sources to a level high enough to make RES more competitive in relation to the former. The Eurocrats face a tough challenge, because backloading has been opposed already by the energy intensive industry lobby as well as Poland and a majority of the members of the European Parliament. The Germans are divided on the issue. The theme is supposed to be back on the agenda of the Commission though.

A centrally steered Energiewende has no link to the idea of dispersed energy, based on RES and installed in a bottom-up manner by prosumer-volunteers. Today the consumers are indeed the slaves of Energiewende. It is precisely the pricey projects, like the German energy turnaround, that diminish the competitiveness of Europe in relation to the emerging powers, like China. This is linked to the phenomenon of the so called carbon leakage – the flight of heavy industry beyond the borders of the over-regulated Old Continent. A signal of change can be seen in the trade battle between the EU and China, whose cheap solar panels are a serious challenge to the German RES sector seeking to defend its market share in Europe. It is possible that the low-cost installations from China will allow Europeans for an independent energy turnaround in their homes.

The Polish match for energy sovereignty

The current environmental minister, Marcin Korolec, took far reaching steps to provide a rational answer to the EU’s climate policy. Thanks to his efforts, the November climate summit of the UN will take place in Warsaw. It will allow the Poles to play in the match for the future of climate policy at their home pitch. Korolec is skeptical of setting higher climate targets. Poland is trying to reach the now binding target – three times 20 percent by 2020. The EU decided to reduce COemissions by 20 percent, increase the share of RES in the energy mix to 20 percent, and increase energy efficiency by 20 percent by that date. It moved well in the direction of achieving these goals. We have doubled our GDP over the past two decades, at the same time reducing emissions by almost 30 percent. Korolec warns against the premature adoption of the so called milestones, through which the European Commission wants to impose even more ambitious long-term plans. He wants the EU to hold its decision until the global negotiations are completed, which is anticipated to take place in 2015. Most likely, he is assuming that in the course of these negotiations the economic calculus will get the upper hand on ideology, and there will be no “new Kyoto”.

Poland must emphasize innovation in the energy sector. We need to support our scientists, researching innovative solutions. It would be good if the development of the RES sector underwent a gradual deregulation and if the rules became as simple as possible. Poland cannot afford another social program like the German Energiewende and it cannot afford a stricter climate regime. If the environmentalists are criticizing the expensive subsidies in the mining sector, its time they noticed the critics of subsidizing RES. Renewable energy should develop from the bottom-up, according to prosumer ideals. Especially, since the answer to the controversy over the need for a climate policy and a state-controlled energy sector will have a crucial importance for the competiveness of the industry in Poland and Europe in the years to come.

* Translated from Polish by Kacper Szulecki.