Energiewende: the future for rural areas

"The energy transition will be for rural areas what industrialization was for cities," explained Germany's Agrokraft at the recent meeting on energy cooperatives. Today, Renewables International takes a look at the presentations, which are only available in German.
As Renewables International recently reported, Germany's energy cooperatives met for the first time at a national meeting to coordinate their actions and voiced their interests in the debate about Germany's energy transition. The presentations are available online at the conference's website in German.

The idea of cooperatives goes back to Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, who pioneered the idea of rural credit unions and cooperative banks in the 19th century. Today, his idea – if a single person can't do it, a cooperative can – partly lives on in energy cooperatives.

From district heating networks to photovoltaic roofs over bleachers at sports fields, energy cooperatives allow people to pool their financial resources and technical expertise to move beyond mere solar roofs on individual homes. Citizens – even those without their own homes – can chip in in amounts starting at 100 to 500 euros generally to take part in local projects. The returns can reach up to six percent; in the case of the Odenwald energy cooperative – which has invested in 74 PV arrays, two PV power plants, a micro hydro plant, and four wind turbines – the returns over the past three years have consistently been between 3-4 percent.

Northern Frisia is arguably where the energy cooperative movement got started in 1991, when the German feed-in tariffs for small hydropower and wind power were first offered. Today, more than 90 percent of all wind turbines (approximately 650 with an average turbine size of 1.5 megawatts) in the county are owned by local citizens. One reason for the popularity of wind turbines in the county is, no doubt, the constant winds on the coast; another is that the farming communities are close to sea level, and therefore keenly aware of the impact of an overheating climate.
Northern Frisia plans to found a citizen-owned grid firm by next year to increase acceptance of newly constructed power lines. At present, bottlenecks on the grid restrict the take-up of additional wind power. Shares in this cooperative are expected to cost 1,000 euros and be issued first to county locals, then to citizens of the state of Schleswig-Holstein, and only then to the market, including institutional buyers. The option is even more interesting for citizen investors because grid operators can have a return of up to 9.05 percent on their investments in grid infrastructure in Germany – far more than a normal citizen can expect to get elsewhere.

One of the most impressive instances of citizens overtaking their grid is probably EWS Schönau (PDF), which has seen its revenue grow from around 14 billion euros in 2004 to around 94 billion in 2011. During that timeframe, the number of customers served has also risen from around 24,000 to more than 120,000. The company, which is also a cooperative, sells shares starting at 100 euros. The number of shares has grown from 10,230 to around 150,000 since 2008.

Green power does not have to be more expensive than the conventional mix, as the case of the cooperative in Lichtenau-Asseln demonstrates. It offers electricity to its customers at a price some five percent below our RWE's standard retail package.

(Craig Morris)

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