Welcome to the "4th revolution": renewable energy for everyone

Director Carl Fechner attends the premier of The 4th Revolution — Energy Autonomy

If the first revolution was the shift from hunter-gatherer to agriculture and settled villages; and if the second revolution was the shift from agriculture to industry and centralized cities; and if the third revolution was electronics, computers and the internet, that decentralized while universalizing at the same time; then the 4th revolution, switching from oil, gas, coal and other nonrenewable and polluting resources to constantly renewing, non-polluting resources like water, air, fire, and earth, continues the globalizing/decentralizing movement of the third revolution and, by democratizing energy, creates a just, peaceful, and abundant world for everyone.

I very much appreciate the the attitude here: renewable energy from sources already available — wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, etc. This bypasses the problem of service-to-self extraterrestrials who might want to seduce us into being hostage to their governance by offering us “free energy.” Besides, we humans have figured out various types of free energy already — remember Tesla, remember Wilheim Reich — and just need to release it, too, to the world.

I especially like that the approach here is de-centralized. Not giant corporate solar factory fields in the desert, not giant corporate hydropower dams that imprison the free flow of rivers and the flora and fauna that depend on them, not gigantic corporate wind farms that disrupt migrational patterns of birds — but everywhere, and always small, local, autonomous. YES!

I am reminded of my bus trip through the northern Denmark countryside eight years ago, crowded with villages, each sporting its own windmill.

From share-international.org magazine.

Free green energy for everyone

Excerpt from an interview with Carl-A. Fechner

by Andrea Bistrich

Imagine a world community with its energy needs supplied 100 per cent from renewable sources – accessible, affordable and clean for everyone. That is the vision for energy policy in 2010’s most successful German documentary film: The 4th Revolution – Energy Autonomy. The film takes the viewer to 10 locations in the world and shows stunning images of dedicated people working towards ‘energy transition’. The message: an immediate shift to renewable energy is not only urgently needed but also possible – and already a reality in many places.

The main protagonist and inspiration is Hermann Scheer, on whose recent book Energy Autonomy the film has been based. Scheer, who unexpectedly died on 14 October 2010 at the age of 66 years, was a member of the German Bundestag, president of Eurosolar, co-founder of the International Agency for Renewable Energy, council member of the World Future Council, winner of the Right Livelihood Award (1999), the World Solar Prize (1998), the World Prize for Wind Energy (2004) and for Bio energy (2000). “The current energy system is over,” Scheer says in the film. “The new system of energy autonomy is on the brink of a breakthrough … we are confronted with the biggest structural change in the economy since the beginning of the industrial age.” Andrea Bistrich interviewed the director and producer Carl-A Fechner for Share International.

Share International: Why have you called your film The 4th Revolution?

Carl-A Fechner: Revolutions are always national treasures. The first of the global revolutions was agricultural. Through the restructuring of agriculture productivity and profitability could be increased, which resulted in once nomadic peoples developing settlements. The second revolution was industrial which replaced much of the human workforce through the increased use of machines run on fossil fuels. But this period is over now and the risks we run if we continue as we have done are far too great.

The digital or electronic revolution was the third and was based on the invention of the microchip in the early 1980s. Computer technology led to flexible automated production systems which in turn radically changed whole sectors of the economy; the worldwide web is a global economic, social and cultural means of communication.

The fourth revolution, and this is what we claim in our film, is the complete shift from oil, gas, coal and nuclear power to wind, hydro and solar power. This transition to 100 per cent renewable energy is primarily an economic structural one, since it is accompanied by a restructuring of our entire energy production and will lead to massive changes in all areas of life. From centralized energy systems – giant corporations that ensure the energy needs of mankind with correspondingly gigantic profits – to thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of small power plants worldwide, that are in the hands of local people. This means that energy can be generated where it is needed, with locally or regionally available resources.

SI: So do you see the energy revolution as an opportunity for our world to become more just?

C-AF: Certainly. What we regard as basic universal human rights – the right to food, clean water, education, to a happy, carefree childhood, and so on – are unequally distributed to only one half of the world. This inequality and injustice is further maintained through the current balance of power, especially with regard to energy supply. The decentralization and hence democratization of the energy supply would mean that the more than 2 billion people who do not yet have access to power and suffer hunger daily, will finally have electricity. According to the UN childhood malnutrition causes irreversible health problems and stunted development which cannot be altered however much living conditions may be improved later. In my opinion, to break through and to solve these issues we must establish a decentralized energy supply.

SI: Can you describe such a structural change in the global energy economy?

C-AF: Supplying our energy needs cannot only be regarded as a technical task. Ultimately it is not a question of replacing current power plants with huge centralized solar power plants which require massive technical and financial investment in the deserts, for example, and then transporting the energy via 4,000 kilometre lines to Europe. We need to move away from this idea; at present a nuclear power plant can produce 1,000 megawatts but the same amount of energy can be generated with 1,000 times one megawatt wind turbines or solar power plants or bio-gas plants or geothermal plants. In other words, to meet the energy demand we need to move away from a few large, expensive and inflexible power plants – which are in the hands of a few suppliers – to a multitude of autonomous energy systems: wind turbines, solar power plants, bio-gas plants and small hydroelectric power plants.

SI: In the film Hermann Scheer says that current vested interests in the energy sector will certainly not accept the transition to free, primary energy supplied by nature, without a fight. How strong is the political and industrial opposition to this change? Can we be optimistic?

C-AF: That is why we speak of a revolution. I believe we can be quite optimistic. But we must all campaign to ensure that this energy transition is made. The crucial point is to begin and to actually do it. This is also emphasized by Preben Maegaard, one of the protagonists of the film and founder of the Nordic Folk Centre for Renewable Energy. Through his efforts, Maegaard created the largest energy-autonomous region currently in the world: 50,000 people in north-western Denmark today draw their electricity from 100 per cent wind energy.

In Germany the proportion of renewable energies is steadily growing and currently stands at 17 per cent of the electricity supply. The changes are so rapid, that all predictions are constantly being overtaken. The conservative German government coalition have in the interim even tried to cut the proportion of renewable energies – that is to stop the phasing out of nuclear energy and to reduce the revenue opportunities as well as feed-in tariffs from solar panels. This has enraged many and shows that this government is obviously very committed to the large corporations. Yet you can see what is happening. With the nuclear phase-out, which has been ratified recently and is certainly a step in the right direction, the Chancellor is suddenly in extremely poor standing with her former friends. Friendship can end very quickly within big industry.

SI: The essential question after German withdrawal from nuclear energy by 2022 is: how do we replace nuclear power?

C-AF: As we withdraw from nuclear power, 23 per cent of the energy supply at our disposition will initially have to be replaced, although the 23 per cent of nuclear energy could be replaced with energy efficiency measures. This very important aspect of reducing energy consumption is not receiving enough attention.

SI: Would consumers themselves save a lot more?

C-AF: Yes, definitely – but by ‘consumers’ we don’t only mean customers – there are also the architects, the urban planners, the major power plant builders, corporate leaders who decide on tens of thousands of megawatts, and so on.

The energy revolution has enormous benefits for the poor, not only in developing countries but even in this country. In Germany we have had debates for three years as to whether our Hartz-IV rate [unemployment and social benefits] should be raised by eight euros €8 per month. In the film we show examples of how to easily save at least €40 to €50 per month just through energy efficiency measures. This sum far exceeds the additional income gained through the raising of Hartz-IV. This amount is a direct saving and remains in one’s pocket, so to speak. People need to become aware of this fact.

SI: It is often claimed that solar energy particularly is far too expensive. In your film, you have shown the contrary, namely that a lot can be economized. With such contradictory information, it is difficult for consumers to distinguish what is really true.

C-AF: Yes, that is correct. The reason for this is, as Hermann Scheer expresses it, “the fish reeks at his head” – because there are enormous deceptions at the top level. There is a tremendous struggle on the part of the energy sector for an enormous market share, and at management levels a policy of disinformation is pursued. Fundamentally, ways to save energy and costs are already available to us all: the first step is to change one’s own energy supply, and this costs nothing. Each household can change over to clean renewable energy by switching to green electricity providers such as Greenpeace Energy, Naturstrom or Lichtblick, etc. If you do, you will also be provided by these companies with excellent information on a regular basis.

SI: The Danish pioneer in the field of renewable energies, Preben Maegaard, had already founded a training centre in the early 1980s to inform people about alternative forms of energy.

C-AF: Yes, education is very important and just as important is “information for the heart”. Basically we have today infinite access to information. That is the objective level. But the information must also be seen to be of paramount value in order to take action. That’s what it’s all about. This is the basic approach of the film – from the heart to the head to the feet and yes, possibly if needed, even to the fists.

SI: You have been to many places in the world where inspiring, courageous activists and pioneers implement quite simple but effective energy concepts. How was your meeting with the economist and Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh?

C-AF: It was a particular highlight, to meet this man – a wonderful person, incredibly disciplined and cordial. Yunus has a clear idea, and that is the move away from poverty, on which he bases his life and his entrepreneurial work.

But also all the others I met while filming – Bianca Jagger, Elon Musk, Ibrahim Togola, Matthias Willenbacher, Preben Maegaard, Zhengrong Shi and many more – I experienced as an incredible enrichment.

SI: Who or what has impressed you most?

C-AF: Since my student days I have been strongly influenced by the idea of justice. Thirty years ago, as a 26-year-old student of media education, while researching in Burkina Faso in a village for my thesis, I had to make my notes at night with a flashlight. That was a defining moment for me: the lights go out at night. This is still the case today and could easily change with a simple solar device. Hence the encounter with Ibrahim Togola certainly was one of the most important for me. Togola learned, as a trainee with Preben Maegaard in Denmark, everything about renewable energy and transferred the ideas to his African homeland of Mali, where he founded the Mali Folk Centre.

Meeting Hermann Scheer was also an impressive experience. He committed his life to his mission and was therefore always under the pressure of time. For our stay in Shanghai, which we show in the film, he had, I believe, scheduled 24 hours. There was the filming with us, then he received an honorary degree, then another honorary professorship and in addition to that he gave a speech….

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