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FILM: An Energy Revolution?
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21 mins, 2007
Germany is leading the world in encouraging renewable energy. By 2050, half of its energy could come from renewable sources. But what's the real cost of its energy revolution?
Germany's landmark EEG law compels power companies to buy electricity at above market prices, from anyone using renewable technology to generate it. "It's the beginning of an energy revolution," says politician Herman Scheer.
The renewable revolution has already come to the German village of Juhnde where residents now produce their own electricity from manure.
"I'm personally very happy," says one resident, "because now I am independent of the international oil prices." 30 neighbouring villages are so impressed they're planning to invest in their own plants.
Germany is now the world leader in renewable energy. 10% of its electricity requirements are now supplied by wind, solar, bio-mass and small hydro. That will grow to 20-25% within 15 years, when nuclear is scheduled to be phased out.
The EEG law has also led to a boom in solar power. Near the German city of Leipzig is a brand-spanking-new solar panel factory using groundbreaking technology developed in Australia. Germany's support for renewable energy is sucking in technology from around the world.
Germany's renewable energy industry now employs 170,000 people - a new industry. But not everyone is a fan. Power companies, forced to buy renewable energy at a high price, pass the cost onto consumers and business.
This means electricity for domestic use is the most expensive in Europe - for business it's the second most expensive.
The critics say that makes some parts of German industry uncompetitive - and actually costs the country jobs.
For Germany's big four energy companies, renewables represent a big threat. With conventional power stations, they make money both from power generation and from distribution. But with renewables they are largely restricted to distribution alone.
Dieter Schaarshmidt is a renewable energy pioneer. He manages a windmill co-operative and is aiming towards 100% renewable energy in the region. "We think that renewable energy should be owned by the people in the region," says Dieter. But the bigger companies are already starting to take over.
The big power companies argue that renewables can't guarantee supply. And because electricity itself cannot be stored on a large scale, they say for the foreseeable future, renewables can only fill a minor, top-up role. And they're getting support from some German politicians who want to keep open the option to use nuclear power.
But Hermann Scheer says renewables alone can meet Germany's entire energy needs, because hydro and bio-mass can guarantee supply when wind or solar are not available. He says the power companies oppose renewables for financial, not technical reasons.
"The most important question is how long do we need?" says Scheer, "Because if this development is postponed and postponed again and again, then we will lose the race against time."
(Originally made for Australian TV)
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