Energy Autonomy. The Economic, Social, and Technological Case for Renewable Energy, by Hermann Scheer

Hermann Scheer is one of the most outspoken advocates for renewable energy in Germany, a country that takes renewable energy seriously.  He is a member of the German Bundestag, and is the achitect of the German Feed Laws that have allowed Germany to lead the world on adoption of wind energy, solar photovoltaic, and significant biomass and solar thermal resources.

He was at Queen’s Park today talking to MPP’s, political advisors, and members of OSEA.  His presence in Ontario speaks volumes about how much progress Ontario has made on the renewable energy policy front in the past few years.  I did not attend, as I wasn’t looking for another trip to Toronto, and I have seen him speak before.  After Al Gore, David Suzuki, and Nicolas Stern, Hermann Scheer has completed the picture for Ontario.

Al Gore and David Suzuki speak of the dangers of climate change.  And its imminence.  And they call out for action by the people and by governments.  Nicolas Stern, former World Bank Economist, laid out the economic consequences.  He concluded that it is less costly to spend on prevention, than on the consequence of climate change, with its rising oceans, changed rainfall patterns, and bigger storms.  I am sure it was my mother who said an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  (She didn’t say a gram of prevention is worth a kilogram of cure – that would be ridiculous).

And now Hermann Scheer.  Mr. Scheer’s book lays out a compelling case for renewable energy.  He correctly points out that it is only renewable energy that is sustainable.  Fossil fuels will run out, and indeed petroleum may be doing that now (and no, not just at Esso stations in Ontario).  He rails against half measures – 10% renewable, or 50% renewable is simply unacceptable in the long run.  Those of us in the renewable energy business, and those who consider themselves environmentally aware, would do well to heed this call, and advocate for no compromises.  Only 100% will do.  Renewable energy has been offered such a thin slice for so long, that we seem to think it is fine if we are just offered a bigger slice.  But it isn’t fine.

He paints a very good picture of the forces acting against adoption of renewable energy.  I had been aware of this on the issue of climate change.  George Monbiot, and others have pointed this out.  The fossil fuel lobby tried to cast doubt on whether or not climate change is occuring, or whether or not is is human caused, or whether or not it will be as bad as they say.  But what I hadn’t been aware of is that the same thing has been happing to renewable energy.  After all, who can actually say that renewable energy is bad?

It is the fossil fuel, utility, and nuclear industry that has been trying to cast doubt on renewable energy.  But of course they don’t do it directly – it would lack credibility.  Instead, they sponsor “studies”, they use innuendo, they gather in all who are opposed for local reasons, and use them as their mouthpeice.  The internet has helped them spread their lies.  Have you ever wondered why the media, and letters to the editor seem to have some common themes?  Wind is intermittent – you have to back it up.  While backing it up, you have to run fossil fuel plants just as hard as if there was no wind in the system, so fossil fuel use isn’t decreased.  The electrical grid can’t accomodate variable output wind turbines.  The German blackout of 2006 was caused by wind turbines.  Wind turbines consume lots of electricity.  Wind turbines cause infrasound, which has devastating health effects.  Wind turbines aren’t very efficient.  Wind turbines only produce power 20% of the time.  Renewable energy is too expensive.  Buried cables send electrical current into cattle, causing them to go crazy, have stillborn calves, and make cattle dangerous to handle.  The vibrations from turbines hurt earthworm populations.  Birds, bats – it goes on and on.  Photovoltaic never produces as much energy as was required to produce the solar panel.  Bio deisel/ethanol takes more energy to produce than it provides.   I am still waiting for the article “Wind turbines as baby killers” study to be published.

Each of these allegations are refutable.  But like the climate change discussion (until recently), it doesn’t matter what the truth is.  All that matters is that the claim of a problem is made.  Hermann Scheer tells us to never back down.  His description of the actions of the German utilities (the incumbent suppliers) to discredit the Feed Law, and renewable energy generally, was compelling.  He even correctly predicted that wind would be blamed for a blackout in Germany.  (It wasn’t wind that caused the blackout – it was a transmission line that was disconnected to allow a ship to pass).  His chapter called Blockades to Action – primarily the forces for the status quo – made me angry, and determined.  It made me want to go off grid, and be done with the rascals.  Of course I would want to go off the fossil fuel grid too (get me my plug in hybrid).  I have already gone off the electrical grid by buying from Bullfrog.

And of course, he builds a compelling case for a feed law as the best mechanism for encouraging renewable energy.  One only need to look at the results in Germany to know that this is true.

This book is not an easy read.  It is quite heavy, with long paragraphs, and many ideas.  But it is intellectually sound, and does much to further the understanding of the need for renewable energy, the forces arrayed against it, and the benefits to be had by an uncompromising move to a renewable and sustainable energy future.

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