Schönau im Schwarzwald, grid rebels
It is now the second month of our trip, and we leave Scandinavia to visit a country were the energy transition is not only a reality but a political statement in our European Union: Germany.
Germany is interesting as a whole because of the political decision made to “turn-around” the energy industry of the country. The plan was to be out of the nuclear by 2022, and to lower the carbon emission by 20%. That means a lot of renewable energy. On the way to realize this incredible project, the german people are now enjoying more than 30% of their energy production coming from renewable sources. This sharp turn in the energy production is putting a strong pressure on the energy production market, but also on the grid, and the people working on it. In addition to that, the german energy market is mostly liberalized. There are 800 DSOs (Distribution System Operators) in the country, compared to 161 in France (with 95% of the distribution grid managed by ERDF).
Germany was not always this driving force behind Europe’s renewable efforts. In fact, Angela Merkel when she arrived in power believed strongly that nuclear should be used on a longer time period. But there is a very particular characteristic of the german culture that is especially interesting for us at Tournesol: The will and capacity of citizens to act collectively to change the status quo. And that exactly what we went and see on our first day in Deutschland. It is on the Schönau im Schwarzwald (Schönau for short).
Schönau is a small village nested in a wooded valley of Baden-Wurtemberg, the land at the south west of Germany. But Schönau is also the birthplace of EWS e.V (ElektrizitätsWerke Schönau) also called “The Energy Rebels of Scönau”. EWS is a cooperative, meaning that the citizens that participate to a common money pot, can make direct decision about the use of this money as a whole, and that regardless of how much money they actually put in the cooperative. I realize it is a difficult concept so here is a link to find out more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooperative
This initiative that was started in 1986 after the Chernobyl disaster completely revolutionized that energy system. In 1997, EWS took over the electrical grid of the village and has been managing the grid ever since. Actually they grew to manage the grid of other villages around. EWS is also an electricity sales company, that guarantee its customers to buy 100% renewable energy. EWS is finally a production company that produce electricity mostly through small solar installations and combined heat and power. It is difficult to imagine for our french readers, but it would be like a local EDF/ERDF that you would actually own part of and that you could influence directly by your decision (notabene: guys, we actually own a part of EDF, through the french government, food for thoughts). If you want to know more about the history of EWS, and you should want that, please watch this documentary, it is really well done: https://youtu.be/BGAW_SwYkTw
We had the great pleasure and honor, to meet Alexander Sladek, one of the current chairman of the EWS, and son of the founders. And by a twist of fate we had the chance to meet with Martin Halm, the first employee of EWS and its grid director. We had an incredible time with them, and despite the rain we felt the sunshine of the transition in Schönau. The interviews will be available shortly, so stay put !
Thank you to all the people at EWS for their warm welcome. And thank you for following us, it is on to the next stop: Hamburg.