In the last two years I have participated in two public speaking tours through New England and the Midwest of the United States at the invitation of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. In numerous meetings I had the opportunity to speak with politicians and policy makers, representatives from government agencies, public authorities and energy utilities, and with cooperatives and different grassroots organizations. Thus, I have been introduced to the discussion in the United States regarding renewable energy.
During the meetings I was often asked whether I can give advice about how to transform a national energy system. What can the United States learn from Germany’s energy transition? Would it work in the U.S.? What would be the right way to do this? To come straight to the point, there is no easy way to copy and paste success stories from Germany, given basic legislative and regulatory differences in the U.S. However, there are some important lessons that other countries can learn from Germany’s experience. I believe the most valuable lesson is the importance of citizen involvement as owners of renewable energy production. In the following article I will describe how renewable energy cooperatives have helped German citizens realize the economic benefits of renewables and how cooperatives have fostered public acceptance of the energy transition. I will also address associated cost developments of energy prices and tell the stories of three typical renewable energy cooperatives in Germany that I feel best demonstrate the importance of citizen involvement in a national energy transformation.