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‘Greenpeace Energy’: 15 years of clean power

Thursday, November 6, 2014 9:49
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Greenpeace Energy 15 Years

A notable anniversary passed us by last week while our focus was on the UN climate panel finalising its latest assessment of climate change and highlighting how clean energy can get the world out of this mess.

Germany’s first and now largest independent energy co-operative celebrated its 15th anniversary. You may be surprised by its name: “Greenpeace Energy”. That’s right, a company established by Greenpeace delivers clean power to German consumers.

Sven Teske, Greenpeace’s leading international energy expert on all things renewable and efficient, has been involved since the foundation of Greenpeace Energy. As one of the five founding members he recalls how it began as a small enterprise that in January 2000, a year after being setting up, had a mere 186 customers.

“For the first time, people in Germany were able to buy clean power that met Greenpeace’s strict criteria,” he explains. “This was back in the days when the Energiewende – the fundamental change in German energy policy that includes abandoning nuclear power – was still a concept on paper. Today, the co-operative provides more than 120,000 customers with clean power.”

Do it yourself

Liberalisation of the electricity market in 1998 was what made Greenpeace Energy possible. It unlocked the power sector, opened the door to new operators and allowed consumers to choose their power supplier.

Greenpeace Germany seized upon this with a campaign – Aktion Stromwechsel – that was supported by tens of thousands of people who wanted to switch to green electricity. Only, at that time, there was no clean power supplier. German consumers were unable to buy the clean energy they demanded.

The solution was obvious: if nobody else was going to do, then do it yourself. So, on 27 October 1999, Greenpeace Energy took up residence in the former Greenpeace office in Hamburg. The number of customers and staff grew rapidly, leading the energy co-operative to move to its own premises.

Independent, sustainable, focused on the future

Greenpeace Energy remains financially and organisationally independent. Naturally, it is still obliged to meet Greenpeace’s strict criteria for clean power. Today, 23,000 shareholder members support the co-operative, and in thousands of homes customers are achieving their own personal Energiewende.

But the co-operative had more ambitious goals – not only selling electricity, but generating it too. Since 2001, its subsidiary Planet Energy has been designing and building clean energy infrastructure and power plants. Greenpeace Energy has invested €125 million in wind and solar photovoltaic power in Germany and now has a staff of 85 people and an annual turnover of €110 million.

Over the past 15 years, the share of renewable power in Germany has expanded rapidly from around 5% to roughly 28%. Power providers such as Greenpeace Energy have played a crucial role in transforming clean energy into a mainstream concern.

Still, there is a long way to go to reach the goal of 100% renewable energy and ending dependence on coal and nuclear power.

In recent years, Sven Teske has managed the analysis and the production of a series of detailed studies for Greenpeace that are a blueprint for making the global transition to clean energy by 2050.

What this depends on is many more start-ups like Greenpeace Energy, and the necessary political will. If that happens, Greenpeace Energy’s 50th anniversary will be the mother of all clean energy parties.

Andrew Kerr works on Greenpeace International’s press desk.


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