Energy democracy: Germany's Energiewende to renewables

Book review
Morris and Jungjohann (2016)

Morris, Craig, and Arne Jungjohann. (2016). Energy democracy: Germany’s Energiewende to renewables. London, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-3-319-31891-2. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-31891-2. Hardback and ebook.

GDR era lamp standard fitted with compact fluorescent lamps


This book examines the German Energiewende from the perspective of public involvement, hence the title.

To a large degree, the German Energiewende is represented by the twin threads of renewables support (introduced in 1991 and overhauled in 2000) and the nuclear phase-out (agreed in 2002 and revived and extended in 2011 after a brief reversal). In the background is an early official acceptance of the need to protect the climate and the political failure of the EU Emissions Trading System (first piloted in 2005 and now languishing under over-allocation).

But the roots of the Energiewende date back to community protests and community initiatives in the 1970s, long before climate change was ever an issue. And that spirit continues today with a high degree (around 50% in 2012) of citizen and energy co-op ownership in renewables. Moreover, the Energiewende itself has mostly transcended party politics, something that the authors (an American journalist and a German political scientist) ascribe to the German proportional representation system and the need to form and maintain coalition governments.

The book chronicles this story in unerring detail and, in the process, transfers key aspects of the Energiewende debate from the German language record to English for a new audience.

The two closing chapters can be read in isolation. Chapter 13 covers recent politics from 2011 to 2016 under chancellor Merkel. It also debunks a number of myths, prevalent in the English press, that the German Energiewende is doomed or has failed already.

Chapter 14 reviews the current status of the Energiewende and its prospects and challenges and provides an excellent lay summary. It also identifies two camps within the Energiewende debate today. The first camp believes the transition to renewables should remain the imperative. While the second camp argues that the focus should shift to reducing the carbon emissions from industry, the conventional energy sector, and the economy at large. The second camp is slowly prevailing.

The book is not an academic treatment, but rather a personal contribution to an evolving analysis on this remarkable political and technological experiment. German readers might not recognize the upbeat portrayal of their country and politics, but the Energiewende thus far represents a major achievement in any terms.

Whether this book will, as the authors hope, convince readers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, that their national energy policies could be different remains an open question. Nonetheless, the book remains an inspiring story of grassroots persistence within a largely functional political system by activists, advocates, researchers, start-ups, nascent trade organizations, and NGOs.

The book is, in my view, clearly the best English language coverage of contemporary energy politics in Germany.