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Berlin to buy back grid and go 100 percent renewable

The German capital has resolved to buy back its power supply. On Wednesday, the grand coalition that governs the city-state passed a resolution to buy back its grid and switch to renewables.

 - Berlin's Energy Agency set up this solar array on the roof of City Hall. 
Berlin's Energy Agency set up this solar array on the roof of City Hall. 

On Wednesday, the grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats governing the city-state of Berlin announced that it was taking power supply back into its own hands and switching to renewables. Next week, Berlin's Senate (equivalent to City Hall because the city is simultaneously a state) is to review the bill, which includes the founding of a municipal utility under the direction of BSR, the city's waste authority, which already operates a number of large photovoltaic arrays and waste incinerators that generate electricity.

The move marks a stark reversal to the neoliberal policies of the 1990s, when a large number of German municipalities were convinced to sell their public services to large corporations. The result was skyrocketing water and power prices. A court in Berlin even ruled that the water provider would have to lower its prices. Sweden's Vattenfall currently provides power to Berlin, and the firm has made a dubious name for itself not only for a number of mishaps at its nuclear power plants, but also for its attempt to undermine the concession process for Berlin's grid, which is to come under the hammer again at the end of 2014. For instance, Vattenfall has greatly overstated the value of the city's power grid.

The citizens of Berlin responded with a ground-roots campaign to take over the the city's grid again. A citizens group is taking part in the round of bidding and wants to have the grid democratized as a neutral trading platform. As Stefan Taschner, spokesperson of the Energy Roundtable that came out of the ground-roots movement, put it, "At least 51 percent of the power grid should be in Berlin hands." In October, Verdi, Germany's largest labor union, stated its support for the "re-communalization" of the municipal power grid "provided that employees are not detrimentally affected." Verdi argues that energy supply is a basic public service that should not serve profit motives.

The new municipal utility would work towards a 100 percent renewable supply of energy starting with distributed cogeneration units whose efficiencies are at least 80 percent. And as Germans always understand, the path to a greater share of renewable energy always requires energy conservation and efficiency, so the new utility would also focus on these goals. The new state-owned company would then take over the grid starting in 2015. The utility would not be allowed to financially support the production and sale of energy from nuclear or coal plants. Everyone currently employed at Vattenfall's grid subsidiary would be offered a job at the new utility under the same terms. (Heiko Schwarzburger / Craig Morris)

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9 Comments on "Berlin to buy back grid and go 100 percent renewable "

  1. Jonathan Maddox - 19.12.2012, 03:34 Uhr (Report comment)

    Pauly, Atomikrabbit : cogeneration can use any energy source. Biogas and wood pellets are just two examples of renewable energy sources.
    The efficiency of cogeneration is the portion of the energy which is usefully used, rather than lost to the environment. This refers not only to electricity but also to heat.
    If 35% of the energy in your fuel is turned into electricity and another 35% is delivered to users who would otherwise use electricity or directly burn fuel for their heat needs, you can consider the cogeneration facility to have a 70% energy efficiency. 100% efficiency is a practical impossibility but very high percentages are conceivable if waste is minimised.

  2. John & Barbara de Waal - 14.12.2012, 18:27 Uhr (Report comment)

    Cogeneration can be effective if the grid is reliable. Where we live, it is not. When the grid goes down, our cogeneration stops and we switch to our natural gas fueled generator, but many of the other generators in our area run on gasoline, adding CO2 to the environment. Batteries solve the interruption problems, 'cleans' the electricity levels, and produce no noise or pollution when the grid is down. But it does not help the community when the drid is up. A solution might be to restrict the grid to dense urban settings only.

  3. mikhailovitch - 12.12.2012, 03:09 Uhr (Report comment)

    Could be wrong, but I think they're the ever-popular 'wishful thinking' units. The overwhelmingly urgent need for carbon reduction is best served by focussed, hard-headed realism. What we do has to actually work, not just make us feel good.

  4. Attila Szenczi-Molnar - 11.12.2012, 11:57 Uhr (Report comment)

    Berlin is one of the largest cities of wasted energy in the world. Every night I walk across the city of Berlin to see all the ground floor shops' lights on as if they are selling products to ghosts. There is so many cars, boats, planes, and trash everywhere. Why is it that we don't question the very foundational workings of our society in this way? Self-sustainability is key but generating your own power is a very small part of it. The rest is the habits, education, and innovation goals of the community.

  5. Pauly - 10.12.2012, 23:42 Uhr (Report comment)

    How is co-generation, which uses a fossil fuel (natural gas) considered renewable energy?

  6. Kevin Meyerson - 10.12.2012, 13:57 Uhr (Report comment)

    Fantastic article. Would love to hear more on this story as it develops. It is highly relevant for Japan as the nation considers how to separate power transmission and generation in the upcoming electric utility industry restructuring. Germany's experiences in this are are invaluable.

  7. Craig Morris - 10.12.2012, 09:29 Uhr (Report comment)

    Atomkrabbit, you are indeed confusing cogeneration with CCGT.

  8. nikkinomad - 10.12.2012, 03:16 Uhr (Report comment)

    PMaybe CCGT with CHP?

  9. Atomikrabbit - 09.12.2012, 21:50 Uhr (Report comment)

    "distributed cogeneration units whose efficiencies are at least 80 percent"
    The best Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) plants I am aware of have efficiencies of about 60%, and have significant emmissions. German Solar and onshore wind have capacity factors of 25% or less.
    What type of units are they talking about?

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