Energy is a driving force for our civilisation
- Solar Advocate -
an Interview with Hermann Scheer
by Alenka Burja
Hermann Scheer´s feed-in electricity law has made Germany the world leader in production of wind energy in only ten years. World political conflicts mainly stem from a lack of availability of energy resources. Many African countries spend up to 80 % of their income for fossil fuels. Introducing renewable energy technologies is a big step for the whole world economy.
Why do so many consider Dr. Hermann Scheer to be a visionary in the field of renewable energy? In 1998 he received the World Solar Prize, in 1999 the Alternative Nobel Prize and in 2000 the World Prize for Bio-Energy. In 1988 he founded EUROSOLAR (the European Association for Renewable Energies – the leading European organisation for promotion of Renewable Energy), and has been a member of the German Parliament since 1980, representing the SPD (Social Democrat Party). Hermann Scheer is also a writer. His publications include several books on renewables, in particular on solar energy: Sonnenstrategie -Politik ohne Alternative (A Solar Manifesto, 1993), Zurück zur Politik (Back to Policy, 1995), Solare Weltwirtschaft (Solar World Economy, 1999), and many other papers. Hermann Scheer, Anwalt der Sonne (Hermann Scheer, Advocate for the Sun, 1998), a compilation of opinions on Hermann Scheer, was published in 1998. Solare Weltwirtschaft has been translated in to Chinese, Spanish, and French, and an English version is on the way. 20.000 copies of the fourth edition (in German) were printed. And Hermann Scheer is also a political architect. The revolutionary one page law on renewable energy (Act on Feeding in Electricity) was drawn up and put through the German Bundestag in 1990 by Scheer and his supporters. It was simple and precise, based on three main pillars: free access to the grid, guaranteed fixed prices, and the obligation for utilities to purchase. The implementation of the law has resulted in an incredible 200-300 percent yearly growth in wind energy in Germany, and implementation of the 100.000 solar roofs programme. So, this unique renewable energy law has made Germany the world leader in production of wind energy with 7.000 megawatts (one third of the total world wind power capacity), and reached as much as 50 percent of the total European capacity. At the same time, wind industry growth has created over 30.000 new jobs in Germany. Moreover, this growth and market competition has forced down costs by 50 percent since 1991. Also growing are export possibilities. The new German Renewable Energy Law from 25th February 2000, based on differential prices, creates an even more dynamic situation for utilisation and development of all renewable energy sources (RES). Meanwhile, the German feed-in law has been brought to the European Court. Opponent (PreussenElektra versus Schleswag) claimed that the law did not comply with the principles of the free market, one of the main postulates of the EU community. The judgment of the EU Court of Justice in Strasbourg in March 2001 stated very clearly that the feed-in law (an obligation to purchase at minimum prices) as well as the new Renewable Energy law are neither state aids nor an obstacle to the internal energy market, merely because they are intended to help achieve environmental objectives, which are in priority for European Union! This was extremely important decision for further promotion of RES.Hermann Scheer is attempting to widen his support for renewables. The World Council for Renewable Energies, founded at a Berlin conference in June and chaired by Hermann Scheer, will motivate governments of UN countries to push through an approval to establish the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). So, under the auspices of the United Nations IRENA should promote the use of renewable energy sources worldwide. Namely, Dr. Hermann Scheer believes that RES are the only solution for our civilisation.
THE DILEMMA OF STATISTICS
1. When you speak of global energy statistics, you say that they are wrong. What do you mean by this?
"They are wrong and unscientific. Science means to have a comprehensive view about things. Therefore, energy statistics must also be precise. And if energy statistics ignores the non-commercial energy flows and take into account only commercial, then they must be wrong. They are giving us the limited picture on energy. Recent energy statistics do not merit being scientific. They are nuclear and fossil energy statistics, not energy statistics. For example, the use of solar collectors is not included in energy statistics.
Conventional, nuclear and fossil energy is only additional energy, which gives us on average only plus 10 degrees. Which is not much. That means that conventional is a minor energy. So, with new technological help we have to substitute this 10 degrees of minor energy with solar energy. Then we will have a global renewable energy system. This is our target."
2. How to achieve this?
"The solution is to set the target to substitute nuclear and fossil energies. And this is possible to achieve with renewable. But this is only possible if scientists, politicians, and industry will change the energy paradigm."
INTRODUCTION OF RE
3.What this means?
"First, we have to start with changes in our minds. What is not in the mind is not going to the hand, to any practices. Here we are not only speaking about cultural problems, but also about the problem of very reduced thinking about energy. The basic requirement to change this is to create a consciousness about renewable energies. This also includes to create a fantasy for intellectual capacity - that all conventional energy can be substituted by RE. This can be achieved by R&D, technological development, and industrial mobilisations, by setting legal frameworks for RE, by implementing a proper energy tax system, which takes into account the environmental and social damages of conventional energies, by making the right calculations of the whole energy system, and not only calculating the cost of one technology but the costs of all of the energy chain, to calculate the burdens for every foreign national economy due to importing fossil energies, etc. This is a comprehensive view on energy."
4. Then there is a need for a global movement and pressure. Is this your aim with establishing IRENA (International Agency for Renewable Energies)?
"This is only one of the necessities that needs to be established."
5. Is everything mainly dependent on the national governments and their approach to RES?
"Yes, because they create the legal frameworks. It is no doubt that Germany has more progress in the implementations of the RE than other countries. It is the result of campaign activities in the general public. Campaign activities mean to create an offensive, to speak about all the benefits of RE in the public in order to create a public conscious on RES. Then people demand political steps from their own government. Media play an important role. Independent associations like renewable energy associations, environmental organisations, etc. play an important role in creating such consciousness. We speak about a cultural process here."
6. The Ninth UN Commission for Sustainable Development meeting in March was a complete failure in regards to the energy issues. Countries have not agreed what is sustainable energy development; nuclear and fossil energy are listed in documents as clean energy, etc. What is your comment on this?
"It is disaster. That is why I do not expect progress to be made on the global diplomatic level and with the global conferences. I never expect this. This is naive. On this global level several governments represent the existing energy economic interests. Therefore, I rather look at other aspects. If we speak about cars, microelectronics, or anything else, were these technologies introduced based on international conventions? Of course not, this would be naive. What introduced them were technological progress, development, and the organisation of a dynamic process. The organisation of a dynamic process cannot be the result of a global political consensus process.
7. Governments, in developed and developing countries, are still not ready to accept new ideas about RES.
"This is because the conventional energy power is still very strong and has too much influence. In many countries politicians are corrupted. Preventing this is part of the campaign to make this clear to the public. To detect, to discover all the energy lies.
All around the world you can see there is more and more dis-information, more technique pessimism about RE. But there are exceptions, like Germany, in which an adequate legal framework was established. People would begin to question: why does it work in Germany, and not in my country? The explanation is simple. It works in Germany because we undertook many steps to make it work, because we overcame the "normal" barriers. And if this is done then we have dynamic development. This should be used as a model for others, to do it in the same way."
8. For this you need very professional people.
"No, first you need committed people. Nothing comes by itself; only the sun does."
9. Some governments from developing countries still receive financial support for investments in conventional energy powers.
"That means that one part of our activities must be to change the priorities in the development aid in industrial countries. In the north-south policy up to now the RE question was only a small point in the development aid policy. And this must be changed. This is part of the legal framework. This is one further step and also one of the main reasons for establishing the International Renewable Energy Agency."
SOLAR FOR PEACE
10. The biggest emphasis in the implementation of RE in developing countries is on solar energy. However, the biggest problem in relation to the production of electricity from solar energy is its storage.
"Not yet. Perhaps in the future it will be, but not yet. The reason for focussing on the use of the PV (photovoltaic) in the rural areas in developing countries is that no grids exist there and that there is not enough electric power at the present state of development. And if they get electric power for some hours per day, this is big step for them, a big advantage because before they had nothing. That means that in the first round they do not need storage technologies as the electricity is going directly for the use. But in further development, decentralised electric power storage systems must be introduced, too. And this is the most important thing for R&D to come out with better storing systems.
But even without speaking about storing systems, there are still so many opportunities for use of PV. For example. In the cities of the South big cooling machines run by diesel, which makes a lot of noise and odour everywhere in flats. Why do PVs not replace these machines? Wouldn’t it be cheaper? Can it cool better? Would it save conventional electric power? There are so many solar modules, which can be applied immediately. The diverse use of PVs would contribute a lot to the introduction of RES. And they are actually cheaper than conventional energy."
11. Well, PV is still very expensive, so how can countries afford to introduce it?
"It depends. This is not true in all cases of applications. It is impossible to speak generally about the costs of PV. It always depends on its applications. If there is a decision to bring electricity to the rural areas, then PV is already not more expensive than any other source (like construction of a new grid). If you use special applications like for ventilation, then module from renewable is cheaper than combustion machine. If people in the developing countries would start to take RE applications, which do not cost more than conventional, no, even less, then there is good development. But only if they would start with this. And they should. This is only the introduction to a long process. If this introduction has stable bases, stable legal frameworks, then the speed will become faster and faster. The slower steps are always the first steps.
12. That means that there is a need for many industries to shift to the production of renewable technology.
"The best situation would be if every country would have its own production of renewable technology. This is the principal target. Look at the present situation. Most countries are importing energy, oil, and technologies for conversion of fossil energies. If they would only import renewable energy technologies (while sources are local), they would no longer need to import the fossil fuels. This is a benefit. But a big benefit will come from their production of such technologies. Introducing renewable energy technologies is a big step for the whole economy of a country.
13. It is your quote "solar for peace". What do you mean by that?
"Introducing renewable energy technologies means reducing international conflicts. Today’s international conflicts are arising for three reasons. The first reason is conflict about water in some regions in the world, like the Middle East. The second are conflicts on energy. The third are conflicts based on economic disasters within countries, which is a source for new radicalism, let’s say ethnic nationalistic behaviour, religious fundamentalism, etc. So, introducing the use of RES means reducing international conflicts.
14. So, RES could be an instrument for solving political conflicts?
"Yes, but all of those political conflicts, which have origin in the lack of the energy available, which is at present the case of most of the developing countries, and in the future may be the case for more and more countries. To overcome the water crisis the energy questions are very important. It is very accurate that the consumption of water by condensation power stations, i.e. nuclear and fossil, is tremendous. You see, energy and water (which sometimes act also as a source of energy) questions are related. Therefore, it is very important to overcome the water crisis. Not the only one, but very important."
DEVELOPMENT OR DISASTER?
15. Developing countries are aiming for progress and development and thus for the same unsustainable lifestyle as developed countries. Renewable energy is not a priority interest.
"They will never get progress in this way. The level of the energy prices in the world market is oriented on the market conditions in the rich countries. These markets are determining the prices even for the developing countries. That means that in comparison with their low GDP, they have by far more energy costs than we have."
16. With already substantial foreign debts?
"Yes. To think that the conventional energy would be useful for their economic development is a totally wrong view. In my last book, I compared the data of the export incomes of African countries and the cost for the import of oil. In the 1960s the cost was between 5 to 10 per cent of the import income, now it is up to 80 per cent. They have no chance on this base. Today nearly all of their incomes are used for the import of fossil energy. This is an absolute disaster for them. But with every implementation of renewable energy they are saving the currency. This means to keep money for the cycle of their own economy, for their own development."
17. Aren´t these governments aware of this fact?
"No, they are not because of the particularisation of the use of RE. The problem is the so-called developed culture. In the scientific sector there is more and more separation of views and specialisation, which means a loss of universal and comprehensive view. Based on the comprehensive view it is impossible to obtain the result that the fossil energy system is helpful for economic development. To come and tell to these states that they need fossil energies for their development is an idiotic point of view. Idiots dominate the world; otherwise we would never have these global problems. How can it happen that over the last one hundred years we have had tremendous progress in science, R&D about the nature, life conditions, etc., but at the same time we have an ecological disaster on the globe? There must be something wrong in the principle. The result of progress is that the technological progress was used for speeding up the disaster. It is not development, it is a disaster."
18. When you talk about "public energy" are you referring to the use of renewable energy with its decentralised character of sources, local distribution, and private ownership?
"Yes, because RE totally has another energy flow. The RE energy system is strange to the existing energy system. All infrastructures, technologies, and forms of enterprises of the existing energy system administer to the supply of only fossil and nuclear energy. Following the energy flow of these energies we see that from the coal, gas and oil fields to the end users is a long, long way. It also brings a great dependence on these sources of energy. Renewable energy is used in the regions where it exists, but with other technologies, with other supporters, and in other energy supplying structures. This difference explains the resistance against renewable energies. This is the main explanation."
19. Is the EU powerful enough to take a lead with RES?
"No. And it is not the question of an EU or USA lead. It is the question of in which part of the world this dynamic is taking part. It is not the questions of leadership, it is a question, let’s say, of modelling another development."
21. What is your opinion about the EU policy on renewable energies? It seems it is not working.
"No, it does not work. This is the very contradiction. There are many sympathetic phrases for renewable energies, but very small, small steps."
22. You are saying in your papers that there is less and less interest in nuclear energy. But in the USA there are new programmes on nuclear power, Russia has a plan to build 50 new nuclear power plants, in particular in Asian countries, the International Atomic Agency has new approaches in promoting nuclear power. Isn’t this in contradiction somehow?
"Yes I know. This is old thinking. If we look at the number of the countries there is less and less interest."
23. But these are mainly developing countries.
"This interest was created by the International Atomic Agency in those countries. Another reason for establishing IRENA."
24. Can you explain briefly the outstanding success of renewable energies in Germany?
"There were some campaigning organisations, which pressed the political parties, the governments on the local level to the federal level, to create legal frameworks. This process started with the foundation of the EUROSOLAR in 1988. Before this time different renewable energy associations were mainly focused on technological development. They lacked a political view on the matter. This has changed with EUROSOLAR. It politicised the question."
25. But if the government would not support it, there would be no success.
"Yes, but the government was pressed in this direction. For instance, I introduced into the party programme of the SPD such proposal and we got the majority support for it."
26. You are a parliamentarian, so it is easier to do. What should they do in other countries, where there are no such parliamentarians?
"Look for parliamentarians and motivate them to be committed."
27. Some countries in the EU look at the German success in renewable energies also as political supremacy. What would you say to this?
"With renewable energies you cannot get political power. You can get a majority in an election if you can explain all the opportunities and benefits to the people and then they ask to act for renewable. After some time you can possibly win an election, but you cannot create an international political power. Not with solar energy."
28. Is winning your aim?
"Well, why should power of others be in the world? For what?"
© Alenka Burja is free-lance environmental journalist from Slovenia. Contact: alenka*folkecenter.dk