Tenant flows: Towards a citizen-driven energy transition

Article by Timon Gremmels, MP and Loïc Geipel, published in Solarzeitalter 1-2020 The German government's climate package is intended to finally revive the energy turnaround in Germany. But to achieve the climate targets, far-reaching measures are needed to give new impetus to the sluggish expansion of renewable energies. Tenant power has the potential to become the future driver of the energy turnaround.

A year of climate policy contradictions lies behind us: millions of people have taken to the streets for climate protection; but global CO2 emissions have reached new all-time highs. Greta Thunberg is named Person of the Year, but the oil company Saudi Aramco became the world’s largest company by market capitalization. Nine out of ten Germans are in favour of greater use of renewable energies, but the expansion of wind power is sinking to historic lows.

Today it can be said with some authority: the Climate Protection Programme 2030, which the Federal Government has launched in the wake of these errors and confusion, will have a tangible and decisive impact on the policy of the coming decade. Since the beginning of this year, all emission sectors have been subject to the Climate Protection Act, which legally stipulates maximum emission quantities for each year and sector up to the climate neutrality target in 2050. For the first time, all sectors – energy, transport, buildings, industry and agriculture – are obliged to make transparent and verifiable CO2 savings and to make rapid adjustments if their climate targets are not met. To put it bluntly, the Climate Protection Act is a historic success, thanks not least to a strengthened climate movement – and its full impact is yet to unfold. In addition, a whole package of measures is intended to ensure that the individual sectors are brought back on track as quickly as possible: a CO2 price will be imposed on heating and transport, and the energy industry will have to shoulder a coal phase-out as quickly as possible. Rail travel will become cheaper, air tickets more expensive. The exchange of heating systems will be promoted, oil heating will be banned.

But despite these fundamentally correct courses of action, the climate package suffers from a crucial flaw in regards to climate protection: the question of how the expansion of renewable energies in Germany can be advanced in such a way that safely achieves the 65 percent target despite the electricity, heating and transport sectors becoming more closely interlinked and with electricity consumption rising as a result – these questions still remain largely unanswered. Even the photovoltaic expansion cover, a relic of days long past, has not yet been abolished, contrary to all public statements. It should be clear to everyone involved: in the case of renewable energies, we must make immediate improvements if we want to put the energy turnaround back on the road to success.

The expansion of renewable energies cannot be delayed. The heavily battered German wind industry can, and must, remain the driving force behind the German energy turnaround. However, after what is probably its most serious crisis, it will take some time before it is able to build on the successes of previous years. For this reason too, it is a matter of common sense to mobilise hitherto unused potential for renewable power generation – and to refocus on photovoltaics, which has been neglected for far too long. Its advantages are obvious: photovoltaics not only benefit from particularly low generation costs; but also from lower land consumption and high acceptancevalues; the proximity of generation and consumption also relieves the strain on the electricity transmission networks. We should therefore not be deceived by the recent recovery in the pace of expansion.

The use of potential roof space in cities is making slow progress at best. Industry players are still hesitant about developing urban districts;and potential investors are afraid of unjustified financial burdens, bureaucratic hurdles and legal imponderables. On our way to fully renewable power generation, we cannot afford to continue to make efforts when leaving this potential untapped.

Since most rooftop or façade systems on and around rented residential buildings offer a good basis for tenant electricity projects and citizen participation; the potential for urban areas is enormous. According to a Prognos study, even with a comparatively restrictive design, 3.8 million apartments could be supplied with tenant-generated electricity. However, two years after the introduction of the Tenant Electricity Act, which the SPD parliamentary group in the Bundestag had to fight laboriously against (even sometimes with considerable resistance in 2017), the law has proven largely ineffective. Since the publication of the Tenant Electricity Report in September 2019, the wider public has become aware of how sluggish the construction of new buildings actually is: so far, hardly 300 projects with a capacity of around 15 MW have been implemented nationwide. This annual expansion amounts to less than one percent of the statutory target value of 500 MW per year. The result is overwhelming: three larger wind turbines produce more renewable electricity than all the PV rental power plants installed nationwide.

Only with a clever political framework will we be able to win the already sealed land potential of German cities for renewable energy production. This is why the SPD parliamentary group has been pressing for a fundamental amendment to the current legal framework for a year now. But although Peter Altmaier had promised in writing that the urgently required adjustments would be made in autumn 2019, the Federal Ministry of Economics, which he heads, is still waiting for a corresponding amendment to the law. For this reason, my group colleagues and I have drawn up our own draft law and brought it into the discussion, which essentially contains three elements: (i)a much more attractive and permanent subsidy; (ii)the further development of the neighbourhood stream; and (iii) a noticeable reduction in bureaucracy.

Firstly, we advocate a lump-sum and unbureaucratic promotion of tenant electricity systems, the amount of which is also oriented in the long-term towards the proportionate exemption from the EEG levy on classic PV systems in owner-occupied homes. At the moment, the level of support is simply not attractive enough economically for it to stimulate any significant increase in the number of new tenants; to make matters worse, the already inadequate support is threatening to expire in the near future. And anyway, there is no comprehensible reason why PV systems on apartment buildings should be in a worse position than those on owner-occupied homes. Secondly, we want to propose that tenant electricity systems are built on a larger scale and are firmly anchored in urban districts, as well as an independent definition of ‘renewable district supply’ and its extension to non-residential buildings. This is because the legal obligation to install small-scale tenant electricity systems on a single building makes the implementation of projects disproportionately expensive – and is at the same time socially unfair: tenants of neighbouring buildings whose roofs are less favourably located are arbitrarily excluded. 

And thirdly, we want to address further bureaucratic and fiscal hurdles that currently still stand in the way of the comprehensive integration of tenant flow models in the energy concepts of neighbourhoods.

The SPD has put a proposal on the table with its bill to strengthen tenant flow. Now CSU/CSU must finally take a position. As long as we fail to allow the delicate planting of tenant electricity to blossom; the urban energy turnaround will continue to fail. If, on the other hand, we finally succeed in promoting renewable electricity generation in the neighbourhood, we will strengthen efficiency and acceptance of the energy turnaround. Tenants‘ electricity then has the potential to become the driver of a citizen-oriented and decentralised energy turnaround.

You can now find the draft law to promote tenant electricity and amend other provisions of the Renewable Energy Sources Act on Timon Gremmels‘ website.