Power to the People – From the People
November 4, 2008

How would you like to be able to sell your energy to the energy companies? With the right policy, people worldwide can profit from creating their own renewable energy. There is now an international campaign to have governments permit customers of energy companies to sell energy to those companies, instead of just buying it from them.

For over 200 years, developed countries have relied on carbon fuels, such as coal and oil. But there is increasing concern about the availability of cheap supplies of those energies. Therefore more needs to be done to encourage both the conservation of current energy and to develop alternative ways of creating energy.

The World Future Council (based at Hamburg, Germany) is a new global forum to protect the interests and rights of future generations. In its first campaign, the Council is calling for a rapid global transition from burning fossil fuels to using clean renewable energy.

A big challenge for the renewable energy industry has been to make the cost of clean energy competitive with heavily-subsidized conventional energy. Householders or energy companies who want to install wind turbines or solar panels have been faced with lengthy pay-back times. If the nuclear energy industry in the 1950s and 1960s had been faced with the same barriers that the renewable energy industry is now confronted with, they may not have been to build a single power plant.

A component of the World Future Council campaign is “FIT: a Feed-In Tariff”. In 1990 Germany passed a FIT law which has helped make Germany an international pioneer in renewable energy. The Feed-In Tariff law requires power companies to buy electricity at a set price for a set period of time from anyone who produces electricity from clean, renewable sources.

By guaranteeing a price for 15-20 years, FIT laws allow people to know when their solar panels or wind generators will start to cover their own cost of purchase, installation and maintenance. By selling their electricity to the power company for a known price, they recover the cost of their equipment – and then make extra income for years to come afterwards.

As a result of the German FIT law, about 234,000 people have been employed in the renewable energy industry in Germany. They have helped the country to become the biggest renewable-energy technology exporter in the world. By 2006, 12 per cent of all the energy in Germany was renewable (up from 0 per cent in 1990). This has also helped Germany’s record on combating climate change.

The World Future Council has published a great deal of material to explain FIT and to encourage all countries to get involved. Additionally Miguel Mendonca of the Council has produced a very detailed book: Feed-In Tariffs: Accelerating the Deployment of Renewable Energy (London: Earthscan, 2007).

FIT laws are gradually being implemented, notably in Germany, Spain, United States, Japan and some developing countries. Even China is moving tentatively on this subject.

But there is no reference to Australia in the global survey. With all the sun’s energy that falls on this country everyday, it would be expected that a global survey on renewable energy would include some reference to Australia.

Australia ought to be a world leader on this subject – and Australians should be able to make money generating solar energy. This stimulating book shows how it could be done.