By Stefan Gsänger, WWEA Secretary General
Remembering the ecological situation in the 1970s and 80s, it was hard not to become depressed about the prospects of mankind: Many of us still remember well the scary reports about dying forests caused by air pollution and acid rain. In addition, the scarcity of fossil fuels became apparent – long queues in front of fuel stations symbolised this problem during the oil crisis. Obviously we were too much dependent on polluting fossil fuels but there was no way out visible. Also, the public perception of climate change problems started to grow – and still almost all our energy came from burning oil, coal or gas. What future would mankind have?
At the time, some still believed in nuclear power, but latest the nuclear accident of Chernobyl in 1986 demonstrated to the world that nuclear power cannot be seen as a long-term option. 25 years later, Fukushima proved once more that nuclear power is simply not a viable solution.
It was in the early 1990s when the author of this text, by pure coincidence, listened to a German politician who presented during a TV talkshow in brief a kind of masterplan of how to get rid of fossil fuels, how to develop a solar industry and how to convert our energy supply fully to renewable energy. His name was Hermann Scheer – later he was also involved in setting up the WWEA in 2001.
In the 1980s and 90s, the first communities and small companies had started investing in renewable energy, even without expecting a profit, simply to contribute their part to the survival of began to mature and to become less costly – and eventually brought us to the situation where we are today: Renewable energies are already dominating new investment in the energy sector, because they are available and accessible everywhere, because they are affordable, because they are practically inexhaustible and because they are the solution to air pollution and climate change.
WWEA is proud to call itself part of this movement towards renewable energy and that many of WWEA’s members and friends, in their regional or national context, have been instrumental in bringing the world to where it stands today.
What are the achievements we are especially proud of?
Establishing WWEA as a global network with global impact
More than 15 years after its foundation, WWEA brings together, directly and indirectly, the pioneers and countless practitioners from more than 100 countries. This network of experts and expertise allows the wind community to exchange information across the globe, share visions and develop new ideas. Also beyond the wind community, WWEA has become an advisor with direct impact on governments as well as on international organisations.
Mainstreaming wind power and renewable energy
Thanks to WWEA’s impact, many countries introduced legislation to support wind power and other renewable energies. Today, the capacity of the wind turbines installed all over the world has exceeded 500’000 MW – enough to cover around 5% of the global electricity demand, with several countries having reached 10, 20 or more than 40%.
To highlight only one concrete example: When WWEA held the 3rd World Wind Energy Conference in Beijing end of the year 2004, China had an installed wind capacity of around 500 MW. In the aftermath of this event, China adopted its first renewable energy law, in early 2005, laying the basis for an unprecedented wind boom. Today, 13 years later, China is the undisputed world market leader with an installed wind capacity approaching 200’000 MW by end of this year!
The creation of IRENA
Already in the first years, WWEA supported the initiative to create an International Renewable Energy Agency – as we saw the strong need to have a global and government based voice for renewable energy. During the founding phase, there was huge resistance against this initiative, from almost everywhere. However, today, IRENA is a well established organisation with 150 member states, and represents the case of renewable energy officially at all major international meetings, including the climate change process.
Moving renewables into the center of the international debate
More than a decade ago, renewable energy played practically no role on the international agenda, especially not at the UN Climate Change Conferences although it was already obvious that only with renewables, a solution to climate change would be possible. Together with our partners from the International Renewable Energy Alliance, we presented the potentials of renewable energy to all UN Climate Change Conferences. It was a long process, but we succeeded more and more. Setting up the Global100%RE campaign as a broad network had deep impact on many stakeholders and eventually paved the way for the Paris Agreement.
WWEA has today members from more than a hundred countries and board members from all continents and hence is directly and indirectly involved in countless activities around the globe in order to promote wind power as part of the future renewable energy supply.
WWEA will continue working on the global level but also advising individual countries, like most recently in the case of Russia. This country used to be leading in wind power middle of the last century but lost almost entirely its expertise in the sector. Only very recently, the Russian government and also investors have started to seriously look into wind power. WWEA is advising the government of Russia to develop a comprehensive wind power strategy. Why should Russia one day not become the renewable powerhouse of the world, producing “wind gas” in huge wind farms and sending this gas to Europe and Asia, using the existing gas pipeline infrastructure?
A focus on Community Power
Next to technology related work and a special section on small wind as well as a Legal Working Group, WWEA is giving special attention to community energy – local ownership of wind farms by local citizens. WWEA is convinced that such models are important not only in order to maximise social acceptance of wind farms. Community power will also maximise socioeconomic benefits for hundreds of thousands of communities around the world and will be an instrumental business model in order to provide energy access to those hundreds of millions of people who are currently living in unserved areas.
Gathering the wind and renewable energy community
WWEA has been organising many events all over the world in order to create opportunities for the wind and renewable energy community to meet. Every year, WWEA invites the world of wind energy to gather for the annual World Wind Energy Conference – from 12-15 June 2017, the 16th WWEC 2017 is taking place in Malmö/Sweden (www.wwec2017.com). The main topic of the event is “Popular and Participatory Wind Power”, referring to business models which include local citizens.
Next to events dedicated to technology, certain markets, and small wind, WWEA has started together with several partner organisations a series of World Community Power Conferences. The 1st WCPC2016 took place in Fukushima/Japan, following an invitation of the mayor of this city. The 2nd WCPC is scheduled for Mali in late 2018.
This year, the forthcoming UN Climate Change Conference COP23 will be a special highlight as it will literally take place around WWEA’s office in Bonn. WWEA, in cooperation with its international partner organisation, will organise the Global Renewable Energy Solutions Showcase in parallel with COP23. The expected 30’000 delegates are invited to learn directly from companies which concrete solutions the industry can already offer in order to implement the Paris Agreement. (www.wwindea.org/GRESS)
WWEA’s Ultimate Goal: Local Community Power for Global 100% Renewable Energy
It seems that with the Paris Agreement we have achieved our main goal – the world’s energy supply will become emission free by 2050. However, not only the role of Donald Trump is questioning how effective this agreement will actually be. Hence WWEA will continue, together with partners from different constituencies and from all around the world, to promote an integrated, 100% renewable energy supply to be deployed as soon as possible.
It will be decisive for the success of this switch to renewables whether we manage to put the topic of decentralised energy supply and in particular of community energy on the global agenda. If as many people as possible benefit directly from utilisation of local renewable resources and become investors, then no fossil or nuclear lobby will be able to stop the global transition towards 100% renewable energy.