Citizens can self-finance and profit from building a bioenergy facility that uses biomass (plants, wood and manure) to generate enough heat and electricity for the village that the surplus can be sold to the national grid. Nina Adam at the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported earlier this week that in Germany "a swarm of households and small-scale investors…are producing and selling renewable energy." Germany currently ranks 2nd among nations whose share of electricity generation comes from renewable sources, and it has a national goal of generating 80% from renewable sources by 2050. Could this be a blueprint for the world? What can we learn from these positive deviants?
This village of 750 people created a cooperative, applied for and received government grants and low interest loans, kicked in about $5,900 each for capital funding and to upgrade their homes' heating systems, and within three years had their money back in energy savings. And this is not one of those 'amazing communities' projects when the question is "Yes, but how do you scale this up?" Adam notes there are 92 similar bioenergy villages in Germany, with another 350 considering making similar social investments.
The appeal to me is that these are not large-scale efforts where the barriers to entry are so formidable. I can imagine bioenergy villages in small towns across the US, as well as for every major housing development and sub-division. All we may need is about a thousand people to make a biomass facility feasible and viable. What if we, as Chrisoph Burger is quoted in the article as saying, followed Germany and "turned the traditional one-way street - from energy producers to consumers - upside down" and encouraged citizens to become energy suppliers as well as users. And to further the impact of biomass energy, in the village profiled in the article the talk is now about how to use some of their surplus electricity to power electric cars. This is the type of puzzle that social marketing can be so useful in helping weave the pieces together - not only encouraging new behaviors, but helping communities find and harness the assets and capacities to bring their vision to reality, enlisting partners to create win-win-win scenarios, and helping to bridge the divides among public, private and nonprofit groups - and among the latter, I think especially of all the community foundations in the US.
If you believe that there are no coincidences, then today's story fuels the idea of local and state initiatives to create renewable energy towns in the US.
Conservative political action groups are fingered as behind these efforts to repeal; Tracy notes that one prominent group receives funding from the fossil fuel industry. As you might expect, getting 'BIG' government out of regulating energy production and use (aka preserve the status quo) and the supposed higher costs of renewable energy sources are key arguments. But they can't seem to argue well against the fact that renewable energy sources can create local jobs (someone is sourcing the materials and running those plants) and that local solutions may be more cost-effective than having large utilities 'convert' to renewable sources. Just take a look at the "Powering Up" chart that compares the capital and on-going costs of different types of electric plants.
Marketing the use of biomass as a renewable energy source seems to be a time that has come for both the marketplace and consumers. As long as local and state jurisdictions can continue to exercise their rights and responsibilities (that is, we don't see efforts by big business to supersede or pre-empt their ability to experiment with renewable energy and especially biomass energy projects), the pieces of a puzzle are becoming clear. Local action to create and socially profit from biomass energy production and household use can involve many different sectors of society in some innovative and productive ways. If you are a social marketer or social entrepreneur in your community, you should be watching - and thinking about action.