But why are local clean energy projects particularly beneficial to our society and environment? Why is distributed renewable power generation better than centralized generation? As a webinar explained, now that we have the opportunity to break free from fossil fuels, will renewables be under community control or become another tool to accumulate wealth for a few? Here we want to discuss the concept of energy democracy, and why community renewables (wind as well as solar power) are what we need for a truly sustainable and just society. To delve further into it, check this interview.
First of all we need to ask, how did we get in this climate mess? The answer is that, broadly speaking, the single-minded profit-driven approach by energy companies have burned out (literally!) major resources of this planet. Now the same approach could be applied to developing renewable projects, where a few investors with deep pockets may be able to build huge renewable projects. Their advantage is to own the necessary starting capital. Within this scenario, only a few companies (and local utilities) will be able to generate clean power. Local communities will not be invited to the table and will not be able to tap into economic benefits.
The massive growth of utility-scale solar projects is good news for the climate, but it keeps the present system as it is – perpetuating an approach where communities, their needs and their concerns, do not matter because development is just profit-driven. Although it will positively contribute to CO2 emission reductions, this way to do business will also preserve the same power structure that has tipped the balance of the climate system. Proposing solutions applying the same paradigm that has created the problem is not bound to be very effective. Indeed, to combat climate change we need central large projects as well as a lot of decentralized ones, the latter built for and by the residents and the community.
The democratic element only enters the equation of the power supply if the end users can influence the what and the how of deployment and management of renewables*. Even better, users are empowered to generate power themselves. They are on the demand as well as on the supply side. And as you all know, the Sun is the most abundant power source on Earth, upon which all other sources depend on, and that is freely available to be harnessed. This feature enables all of us to have a say in how solar power is used, because how can any company be so daring as to control a ubiquitous resource?
So what does this all mean for all of us? The 2nd part of this post will be shared in the next few weeks, you can subscribe to the blog feeds (on the right side below Archives) and be notified when it comes online.
* And it is not only about renewable energy, but also influencing all energy resources deployed in the energy infrastructure. Each element that gets added or re-made represents an opportunity to introduce local control and local benefit. For instance, there are a lot of discussions nowadays around storage, blockchain and micro-grids. These applications affect the energy landscape with the potential to better manage renewables, but it's more than just renewables.