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Published on June 3rd, 2009 | by Tom Schueneman

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Member of German Parliament Sounds Death Knell for Carbon Energy

“The conventional energy industry is the biggest corrupter in the world.”
“If there is no change by 2030 there will be a bigger economic crash than the recent banking collapse.”
“The system must change.”
“Renewables are the only solution.”
- Hans-Josef Fell, member of German Parliament, Spokesperson for Energy and Technology, Faction Alliance90/The Greens

While perhaps more strident in tone than some in Germany may be comfortable with, these words from Green party member Hans-Josef Fell express the nation’s determination to lead the world to a new energy economy.

Fell was speaking at a breakfast meeting in Berlin last month for an international group of thirteen environmental journalists and writers, invited as guests of the German Foreign Ministry to spend a week examining German climate and energy policies, and the nation’s commitment to global cooperation on climate protection.

Throughout the discussion, Fell made clear his belief that the path to a sustainable future for Germany, and by implication the rest of the world, will require a major shift in society – a “brave new world” in which fossil fuels play little or no part. That a transition is upon us is beyond our control, but the challenges it presents create unprecedented opportunity if we act boldly and decisively. For Mr. Fell, an aggressive and rapid shift to a low carbon society is the fundamental solution for rebuilding a failed economy, protecting the climate, providing energy security, and creating a sustainable global society.

No small feat, but one Fell believes can be done in Germany within twenty years.

Peak oil

Hans-Josef FellAsk five different experts to spot exactly the point of peak oil and you’ll likely get five different answers. What each answer will have in common, however, is that peak oil is near – either the near future or recent past, but close nonetheless.

Fell places peak oil at 2006, saying supplies will decrease 3% annually, with world oil supplies dwindled by half what they are now by 2030. If nothing is done to reduce global reliance on oil, he projects an economic collapse on a scale much worse than the recent bank failures and global recession. “Fossil energy has no economic future,” says Fell.

No economic burden in renewable energy

Fell disputes any criticism that adopting a low carbon energy economy creates an economic burden and impedes recovery from the global recession. To the contrary. He points to job growth in Germany’s clean energy sector  and the faster-than-expected expansion of renewable energy in recent years. Germany is already well ahead of its target of 12% of total generation from renewables by 2012. As of the end of 2008 the figure stands at 15% of the country’s electricity generation from renewables, eliminating 112 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions. If the country can maintain the momentum, one-third of the country’s power will come from renewables by 2020, and 100% by 2050.

The driving force behind this rapid expansion of renewable energy is the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) passed in 2000. The EEG grew out of the 1991 Electricity Feed Act establishing the feed-in tariff as the foundation and driving impetus on all subsequent expansion of renewable energy.

To get an in-depth look at the EEG feed-in tariff, it’s worthwhile to read a 29-page report (pdf) written earlier this year by Fell. The essential elements of the legislation include:

  • A guaranteed set amount paid to operators of renewable energy generation plants (wind, solar biomass, landfill and mine gas, hydroelectric, and geothermal). The compensation (feed-in tariff) depends on the source of energy and the year the energy was first made available to the grid; the rate is guaranteed for twenty years.
  • Grid operators must give priority access to renewable energy sources over conventional sources, including nuclear, until the grid has reached its capacity. The expansion of renewable energy sources will therefore require the eventual decommissioning of fossil and nuclear power generation.
  • No public money funds the tariff, which is financed solely by private investment.

With a feed-in tariff, the price for renewable energy is regulated and the market determines the volume, whereas the opposite is true for a quota, cap or renewable energy portfolio scheme, where the market determines price and the volume of renewable energy is legislated.

Legislating the volume of renewable energy with a quota or portfolio system actually impedes its full development since there is no incentive to expand beyond the mandated quota. There is no such barrier with a feed-in tariff as constructed under the EEG.

The EEG is not a subsidy. It sustains itself from investment from the private sector. By guaranteeing access to the market and set price for a known period of time for renewable energy producers, the EEG is instrumental for the past success and continued optimism for expansion of renewable energy in Germany.

Fell calls renewable energy a “costless” primary energy source – the wind blows, the sun shines, and the water flows. Unlike fossil energy sources, which must be found, extracted, transported and burned, renewable energy has only technology and financing costs associated with its production. Those costs come to an annual investment of €3.2 billion annually, a fraction of the €17 billion in savings the EEG created through reduced fuel purchases and external costs for fossil and nuclear energy in 2008 (Germany passed the Nuclear Exit Law in the 1980′s mandating no new nuclear plants and the decommissioning of all existing plants by 2025 – the law remains in force today despite increased pressure to allow existing nuclear plants to remain in operation to help meet emissions reduction targets.)

On the model of PC’s and cell phones

The power and speed inside the computer from which I write this post was unthinkable twenty years ago; uttering the word “blog” was talking gibberish. Thanks to Moore’s Law, almost the opposite is now true – to not have a computer with at least the speed and power of a 2-year-old iMac is unthinkable, especially for a “blogger.” What seemed impossible or at least unlikely then has become expected and commonplace now.

When all subsidies are eliminated from the production of fossil fuels,  and all barriers removed from the expansion of renewable energy, Fell believes a similar version of Moore’s Law will kick in, leading to exponential growth both in clean technology and cleantech jobs.

“With the right framework,” says Fell, in twenty years Germany can “replace fossil energy with renewables” and “rebuild the energy infrastructure and grid.”

The end of the carbon age

We are at a unique time in human history. It is difficult to see beyond our limited perspective, beyond our immediate circumstance into a world transformed. Nonetheless, these are the times in which we now live. In a few short decades our world will be not be what it is today. Despite how much we may wish otherwise, we live at the end of the carbon age.

Economically, environmentally, and for the sake of national and global security, rapid deployment of renewable energy is the only reasonable course of action. For Mr. Fell, pursuing any strategy involving carbon-based technology or policy is ultimately a waste of time (time that we don’t have to waste). Carbon capture and storage is unreliable and leads to problems similar to those with nuclear energy – the inability to guarantee that our waste doesn’t pollute the lives of future generations. Even focusing too much on emissions trading diverts from the task at hand.

For Fell and his colleagues in the Green Party, there is no effective remediation of climate change with fossil fuels, no possibility for long-term international security, and no economic chance for a sustainable future. The solution rests squarely on a new world order, a new energy economy, and a low-carbon society. It’s not the first time humanity has faced a transformative shift based on its energy culture, but this time the challenge is certainly the most important and far-reaching. Getting it wrong is not an option.

With those sentiments firmly planted in our minds, Mr. Fell left our small group of writers and journalists, climbed onto his bicycle, and headed off into the gray, misty Berlin morning toward the Reichstag to continue his work in the German Parliament.

Image Credit: Tom Schueneman





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About the Author

is an online publisher, editor, and freelance writer. He is the founder of GlobalWarmingisReal.com and the History Blog Project, as well as publisher and site director for the HippieMagazine.com. Tom also contributes to numerous environmental blogs, including TriplePundit, Ecopolitology, Sustainablog, and Planetsave.   Tom's work has led him to Europe, Africa, Latin America, Canada, the South Pacific, and across the United States. His home base is San Francisco, California.



15 Responses to Member of German Parliament Sounds Death Knell for Carbon Energy

  1. russ says:

    A German greenie idiot – nothing more than empty head and hot air

  2. Jeremy says:

    Russ,
    You are an idiot if you think that we can continue to consume carbon in the manner we do. It is time we transform our energy policy not only in the United States, but around the world. It is time we build a new industrial revolution based on clean energy technology and jobs. It is unfortunate that we are resorting to name calling instead of having a meaningful discussion about energy policy.

  3. Nick says:

    Yeah, shame on him for working on making alternative energies, which are inevitably in our future as our finite oil supplies dwindle, more feasible. I mean, what an idiot, thinking that sunshine and wind are free and thus represent a great source of essentially pollution-free energy.

    Oh, wait.

  4. Well Russ, your comment serves little purpose since it appears you haven’t even taken the time to read the post.

    Whether you like the Green party and Fell or not, the take home here is that Germany, through the EEG (read the post to find out what that is) has propelled Germany to the forefront of renewable energy.

    As the post states, the country is already well ahead of their targets for renewables, thanks in large part to the EEG, which Fell and his Green party colleagues were instrumental in developing in cooperation with the rest of the German government and people – it did, after all, become law.

    In any case, do you have any counterargument? Anything at all to say that supports any point of view? I’d really be interested, as, I am sure, would be the rest of the world. I’m sure there’s a thought in there somewhere!

  5. russ says:

    I simply stated my opinion of the green party and the positions of that party.

    Fell & his party have managed to promote PV power whether it is sensible in the long run or not. I have far more confidence in nuclear power meeting long term needs for example. CSP offers good use of solar power generation. Wind is good many places.

    Their whole concept of smaller units, local sourcing, reducing industry etc. I do not believe in. With their anti business basis they could never manage to make anything work by themselves.

  6. sm hudson says:

    Thank you for this article. I am in the process of reading Mr. Fell’s report, which you have kindly linked in your article. It is certain that many changes are both necessary and in the works globally to establish a more secure and less mercurial standard of energy and global finance. Thanks again for highlighting this report.

  7. You’re welcome – I’m glad you downloaded Fell’s report.

  8. Peter says:

    Tom:

    I did not see a link to Mr.fells article ??

    Thanks

  9. Jen says:

    A timely post as the Senate Energy and Natl Resources Committee is working through the energy bill today, and more specifically renewable standards.

    New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/06/01/01greenwire-senate-panel-to-tackle-renewables-standard-bui-70693.html

  10. Even if I don’t agree on everything the Greens say (on nuclear) I have to say that Herr Fell is right on how we have to change the way we regard energy.

    We consume a lot without much efforts done on efficiency and conservation, which could enable us to consume much less.

    Cleantech is great, but they won’t do the trick without decreasing our energy consumption habits. I am sure we can do both.

    As you point out, we have changed a lot in 20 years, we can do it again. Many thanks Tom for this compelling article !

    Best regards from France.

  11. Uncle B says:

    The Great Hulking American Neanderthal, spawn of over 200 years of force-feeding for the express purpose to exploit North America’s easy resources for the Capitalist purses of this world can hardly be expected to use better terminology than to classify any opposed to his continuance as “Idiot”! In fact, China now threatens with the “Population Bomb”. They face an aging workforce and a growing elderly population and sanctified “Elder” population. Their suggested solution: Allowing two off-spring per couple for a generation to refurbish, rejuvenate, their workforce! What does this do to the Great Hulking American Neanderthal? With his dollar’s value falling like a stone on world’s markets and the Chinese Yuan very strong and well respected, trusted, it means that his U.S. dollar will no longer be able to command the 80 % of world’s resources he depends on for survival, and he will have to share world resources with his Oriental counter-part! In simple terms, the “Idiot” will starve in the darkness of unsustainability while his “Rice and Veggies” Asian counter-part still lives to eat, albeit rice! Remember: Oil is finite in supply in this World – any shared with a booming Asian population will subtract from the Great Hulking American Neanderthal’s share! He will pay what Asians can pay, or do without – ask any Arab Financier! Simple math! He cannot possibly bomb, threaten, cajole, or otherwise squirm his way out of the facts of life on this planet! Next, Let’s consider the unregulated population explosion in India and it’s effect on the Great Hulking American Neanderthal! Takes his food in a day, to feed twelve of these vegans, comfortably! He loses automatically, on the sustainability card alone! What is more, Indians have a huge pool to develop an intelligentsia from! And they have! They produce more Post-Graduate Engineers than America has high-school students – every year!
    The Great Hulking American Neanderthal just may realize that every time he points his finger at someone, three of his own fingers point back at him! Then his hegimoniously, xenophobic ways will subside and he will see clearly he is at an unsustainable disadvantage in this world of today, stuck with a WWII style Military the World has ever known, yet losing the war on the economic battle-front with the Asian Fact! Poor asshole! All prepared to win WWII and his dollar is crashing the gates of Hell on its way to a total crash, gently controlled from Asian Stock-Markets by his own Capital, manipulated by no less than his own Capitalists – looking as always for ROI gains at all costs – even the U.S. dollar, as they hide safely in Chinese “Yuan” on Beijing, Shanghai and Hang Seng stock markets. They are safe in Yuan and bleeding the last blood from this great beast – the Great Hulking American Neanderthal! And rightly so! He was dumbed down and bred for expressly that purpose! Idiot indeed!

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