Alternative Energies and their Impact on Our Democracy

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Can decentralised and self-organised energy production and its intelligent involvement be a path to a better future?

The last 150 years have been marked by the exploitation of fossil energy, which has enabled us to achieve unprecedented progress in terms of society, civilisation, and technology. However, as we are aware, the achievements of the seemingly inexpensive and abundant “black gold” have had a considerable impact on nature, mankind and the environment.

The craving for this ‘cheap’ energy source has resulted in dependencies and geostrategic thinking on an unprecedented scale.

Today’s civilisation is characterised by polluted air, which leads to millions of deaths worldwide every year, as well as by global ambition and systematic violations of international law in the form of (usually disguised as humanitarian operations) resource battles, which are carried out with brutality – be it for the purpose of securing oil sources, or the necessary pipelines and infrastructure. A strategic reinterpretation of NATO, which has been known since 2005, revealed how complex this issue is, setting out, among many other things, the “defense of member interests in the energy sector and the safeguarding of resources and transport routes“.

Energy policy shortfall in planning

In Austria alone, on average, around four billion euro are spent every year for oil imports from politically unstable and hostile regions such as Libya and Iraq. Nigeria is also part of the import chain – with its devastating environmental and human rights situation. Approximately 80% of imported oil is used for transport. Furthermore, Austria also subsidises fossil energy sources with another four billion euro per year. This clearly distorts the markets for alternative energy sources.

We are now forcing and ceding a system that ultimately produces only a few ‘winners’ and makes an entire populated planet a loser.

Smart grids for more personal responsibility, independence, and autonomy in energy production and usage

One of the few advantages of fossil fuels such as oil is its enormous energy denseness. A future post-fossil energy industry must confront these challenges. As a comparison: one litre of petrol or diesel contains roughly nine kilowatt hours of energy. The batteries with the largest capacity currently installed in electric cars have about 60kwh (the corresponding figure for the Nissan Leaf, the best-selling electric car, is less than 30kwh), which is equivalent to filling a tank of just over six or three litres, respectively.

Nevertheless, the enormous efficiency advantages of an e-car can partially compensate for this low energy density. Modern e-vehicles consume about 21kw/h per 100km, which corresponds to a little more than two litres of fuel.

In order to make e-mobility suitable for practical usage, a dense and extensive electrical network for charging stations must be set up. Thus, this is the moment when the so-called Smart Grids come into play. SmartGrids are, as the name suggests, intelligent distribution networks for electrical energy.

Compared to the previous networks, such networks are designed for decentralised and also private power generation and consumption. Since large parts of renewable energies, such as solar or wind power, are subject to natural fluctuations, this network must ensure load equalisation. If, for example, there is no wind in one part of the country, while the wind intensity allows excessive energy generation elsewhere, the system compensates the load.

In very simple terms, my solar panel connected to the SmartGrid in Vienna helps to ensure that an e-car driver in Eisenstadt can charge his or her vehicle and vice versa.

It is conceivable that every imaginable method of generating energy could constantly benefit society as a whole – be it the solar system on the roof, the wind turbine in the garden, the small river power station or the biogas plant in the backyard. It would, therefore, be possible to democratise the energy sector considerably and to become a little more independent of the centralised, monopolistic large industrial producers. There is also the potential to generate energy in the city. Very little speaks against the use of roof surfaces for solar energy or the installation of small, recently almost noiseless and vibration-free, wind generators at the sites concerned. Even glass façades can now be used as a power generator by means of transparent solar cells.

France has taken a first step and has decreed that all the new commercial buildings must be fitted with either green roofs or, alternatively, solar panels.

The advantages of such a supply are obvious: the added value that remains in the country, jobs for the production and maintenance of the systems, more independence from the moods of other countries and a little more distance from the course of geostrategic conflicts – to name but a few.

Imperial cherry picking

What we do in the West is a kind of imperial cherry picking. We want to enjoy the comforts that oil from crisis regions brings us, for example, but without taking into account the social consequences of what we are doing, as can only be seen too obviously in the current refugee debate. Through the devastating capitalist logic of exploitation, we are not only violently tapping foreign resources, but we are also funding this approach, allowing corporations to make hundreds of billions in profits and allowing them to establish enormous political power.

The system we have set up is deeply undemocratic and inhuman. Refuel your car, heat your apartment and fly on holiday – yes, please! However, we do not want to ‘feed’ people who suffer from our hunger for energy in the form of wars, dictatorships, and climate change, or in the best case reluctantly having another mouth to feed among us.

We as a society must pull together because politics is only tackling everything with extreme hesitation. When one becomes aware of the involvement of politics and corporations, especially within the energy sector, one must realise that little can be expected from this direction. Not without reason are politicians, following their democratic career as “consultants”, sitting in the upper ranks of multinational energy giants. The Dieselgate affair, at the latest, finally destroyed the mask of a functioning democracy that makes decisions in the public spirit. It’s time for us to get back a slice of it.

Translation German-English: Anna Dichen

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Electric_Web_(8729901057)- Electric_Web_(8729901057)- Thomas Soerenes CC BY 2.0