Energy Autonomy: Getting Serious about Renewable Energy

Article excerpt

ENERGY AUTONOMY: GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT RENEWABLE ENERGY, by Hermann Scheer, Earthscan 2007.

Reviewed by Darrell Blakeway*

Dr. Hermann Scheer, member of the German Bundestag since 1980, is a distinguished leader of the world renewable energy community, and a moving force in establishing Germany as the leader of renewable energy development through the most effective legislation anywhere in the world. His most recent book, Energy Autonomy, was published in German in 2005. The English translation was published in January 2007. ' Scheer argues that environmental advocates must press for massive and rapid development of renewable energy, and to halt the further development of fossil and nuclear energy to avert environmental, political, and economic disaster. He is deeply critical of the opposition he perceives from conventional fossil and nuclear energy industries.

Scheer makes a compelling case for renewable energy, noting many encouraging developments in recent years. Nevertheless, he perceives very effective opposition to renewable energy, sometimes overt but often covert, and concludes that many of the strongest proponents for renewable energy have been enervated by the opposition.

Energy Autonomy opens with a remembrance of the euphoria that swept through the 4,000 participants in the Renewables 2004 Conference in Bonn, Germany. Scheer was instrumental in persuading Gerhard Schroeder, then Chancellor of Germany, to convene the Conference. Despite the enthusiasm and optimism of the conference participants, Scheer observes that growth rates in fossil energy usage still remain significantly higher than growth rates for renewable energy resources.

While interest in renewable energy is growing around the world, Scheer says that the actual efforts to implement a major and sustained development have been limited to a very few countries. The steps necessary to realize the fullest potential for renewable energy are not being taken, Scheer asserts, because of the faulty perception, even on the part of many renewable proponents, that substantial reliance on renewable energy is not feasible. Components of this misperception are these:

* Renewable energy's usable potential is too limited to substitute for nuclear and/or fossil energy. We must continue to make massive investments in conventional energy during a long transition period to renewable energy.

* Renewable energy must be integrated into existing energy supply structures, and be compatible with those structures. Renewable energy usage must be limited to the capacity that existing energy structures (such as electric transmission and distribution) can accommodate without jeopardizing the reliability of those structures.

* Energy policy should not jeopardize the financing of new conventional energy facilities, or threaten recovery of investments in existing facilities.

* Introducing renewable energy on a scale that would rapidly displace the existing energy structure would cost far more than society can afford. A very gradual transition to renewable energy is the only financially prudent path.

* Policies to develop renewable energy depend on subsidies, which are inherently unfair and uneconomical.

* Conventional energy businesses are essential components of our economy and should be relied upon to guide the development of renewable energy.

* Unregulated (or minimally regulated) energy markets are the best guarantors of the lowest prices to consumers. Governments should not impose policies to promote renewable energy that result in higher prices.

* The problem of global climate change and the need for clean renewable energy as a response to that problem are global problems, and solutions should not be implemented unilaterally by individual governments.

* Steps to promote renewable energy and address worldthreatening problems caused by the continued use of conventional energy must not be so large or so radical that they generate significant political or economic opposition. …