A shift to a cleaner and brighter energy future is not just a matter of technology or economics anymore. It is also a matter of political will. And although our leaders don’t seem to get it, people do. The recent boom of renewable energy technologies has reshaped our way out of climate crisis. And regular people are right at the center of this empowering change.
Our current energy model is becoming obsolete. Too centralized, too dependent on dirty energy sources and with too much power concentrated in too few hands. Feeling threatened by the expansion of clean, self-produced electricity, the dirty utilities are fiercely fighting back in countries where renewables are booming – US, Japan, Spain. But it ain’t going to be easy; people are ready to take the fight on and win!
From Europe to Africa, on their own or via innovative financial models, communities across the globe are taking the power back. They are installing their own solar and wind systems to become more resilient, getting access to electricity, buying back their city grids, exercising their consumer choices to choose green power or investing their personal savings on green projects. Each of them have different motivations but all of them have a common denominator: they are winning.
1. Hamburg, Germany – breaking free from utilities
One of the most successful campaign has been ‘Our Hamburg, Our Grid’. The goal was to purchase Hamburg’s energy, gas, and district heating supply back from privately owned dirty utilities, Vattenfall and E.On. These utilities didn’t act in the best interest of the people and were delaying Germany’s shift to renewable energy. Hamburg’s voters forced the city to buy back the grid last year in a successful referendum. The key to success – their citizens!
As in the case of Hamburg, German civil society was the main driver of the country’s energy transition. Since 2007, over 60 municipal utilities have been created in Germany and over 170 communities have attempted to purchase the energy grid back from private providers. More than 50% of total investments in renewable energy came from private individuals and farmers. 650 energy cooperatives have become drivers for renewable energy projects across the country.
2. Fukushima, Japan – bringing hope and resilience
After one of the worst nuclear accidents ever, people of Fukushima want their hope and their power back. The Fukushima Prefecture in Japan has committed to 100% electricity from renewables by 2040 and they are wasting no time. Creative activities are taking place across the region, from a solar system “of the people, by the people, for the people” in Iwaki city to a Solar Agri Park in Minamisoma city.
Fukushima wants to become a more resilient community, and its people believe that solar power can bring back prosperity to a land which name means ‘good-fortune’ island. Like in the rest of the country, solar is simply booming across the region. And it’s mostly the local people – via their community or their consumer cooperative’s membership – who are driving the change!
3. Bihar, India – making life better and brighter
In a country where 300 million people live in the dark, where mega cities suffer from chronic blackouts and where coal contributes to between 80,000 to 115,000 premature deaths and 20 million new asthma cases annually, renewable power is bringing light and transforming lives.
Dharnai village in one of the most densely populated and poorest state of Bihar is a living example of how the sun can change people’s lives for the better. The lives of the villagers are now powered by renewable micro-grids. Kids can now study and read after dark, women can feel safe at dusk and the whole community has access to a better health care.
The Dharnai community has not only leapfrogged the climate-wrecking fossil fuels by powering their community with solar power. They also proved to the rest of the country – and the world – that people can own and control their own clean and renewable energy!
4. US – new models on the (sun)rise
Crowdfunding is the new black in the US. It democratizes both energy and finance. And people just love it! One of the leading providers of rooftop solar systems, SolarCity, has recently opened the bond market to everyone who wants to contribute to the expansion of solar development – as investors. The platform will pay back ordinary investors with the income from the solar electricity payments made by its customers – homeowners, schools, businesses and government organizations.
Energy cooperatives are also on the rise. In California, where more than 190k residents have switched to solar energy, anyone can join the Cooperative Community Energy. This gives them a voice and a vote in the direction and activities of the organization, the ability to purchase a solar PV system at a discounted rate, and a dividend check if CCEnergy makes a profit. Advocacy for favourable renewables policies is also on their agenda.
These two examples are but a small part of what is happening across the country. It looks like when we talk about the renewables and energy independence – yes, they can!
5. Indonesia, Sumba island – the power of alliances to turn off diesel generators
A beautiful corner of Indonesia is aiming to become a model of clean energy use, aiming to function entirely on renewable energy sources by 2025 and getting rid of expensive diesel generators. Only one year ago, most people on the island had no electricity, or were depending on dirty kerosene and diesel. Today, renewables have improved the daily lives of the villagers and the electricity access has been increased to over 40% of the population, and growing!
The key for success? Forming an efficient alliance between the civil society, private sector, local and national political leaders, and putting the needs of community central. Sumba island is a clear example that renewable energy is a sustainable and cost-effective way to tackle both poverty and climate change, and that if there is a will, there is a way. Go Suma Go!
6. Khalova, South Africa – making electricity affordable
The Three Crowns Primary School in South African Khavola village couldn’t afford electricity from the national utility. So in 2008 they entered a local School Greening Programme backed by the Development Bank of South Africa, and today 178 children benefit from a self-sufficient renewable electricity system. The electricity is used to power computers, printers and photocopiers as a standalone non-grid tied system. The benefits of this system are also shared with the village community.
Given the success achieved, the project moved to the more ambitious goal of creating a “sustainability commons”: a rich and diverse pool of sustainability-focused technologies, tools and learning; whose resources are deployed locally for the benefit of the community and environment. The initiative grew into a collection of projects called the Rural Sustainable Villages Programme.
The word is spreading and hopefully, many more villages across South Africa can afford these life improvements if this model were to be replicated. This is Africa and renewables looks like the way forward!
7. Unleashing the power of faith
At the same time that 400.000 people took the streets of NYC in the largest climate march ever, an interfaith meeting gathered Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Jews from around the world to sign a declaration demanding world leaders to act on climate change. Not only that, some of them are already walking the talk by committing to divest from fossil fuels and re-invest in renewables. Faith is power!
So overall it looks like the Energy revolution is happening all over the place! People are playing a crucial role in spreading the word and more importantly, in taking action and driving change. Decentralized renewable energy reduces energy poverty, protects the environment, strengthens resilience of communities and gives power back to people. What else can you ask for?
Today, more than ever, renewables are succeeding in those places where people are taking action and want it to succeed. It is simple. It is People Power.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will finalise their Fifth Assessment Report with a Synthesis published on the 2nd of November in Denmark – a country committed to transitioning to 100% renewable energy in it’s energy system.
For more info on the IPCC Report and on Denmark’s 100% renewables commitment, see http://ift.tt/1xzymIY
Paula Tejón Carbajal is a Corporate Adviser and Climate & Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace International.
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