Clean Energy Future from a Trans-Atlantic Perspective

Date - 31 / 08 / 2017

Clean Energy Future from a Trans-Atlantic Perspective

Environmentally Beneficial Electrification

We are seeing today significant efforts from multiple sources and agents toward decarbonizing the electric grid and electrifying the transportation sector.  The intensity and content of these efforts varies significantly between and among the four continents of the Atlantic Basin, and yet we see a common directional arrow.

First, we can point to an increasingly cleaner electric grid with the rapidly declining cost curve of solar energy systems and improvement in solar efficiency.  Second, we are seeing a movement toward natural gas for power generation, in significant part due to the shale revolution in North America and, specifically, the United States.  Third, we are witnessing significant advances in energy storage technology.

At the same time, the emergence of affordable hybrid and all-electric vehicles is increasingly impacting the transportation system.  A recent New York Times editorial cleverly states that “The electric car has already left the garage.”  Volvo, based in Sweden and now owned by the Chinese corporation Geely, has announced that it no longer will manufacture internal combustion engine vehicles after 2018.

The speed of adoption and technology advances will variably impact each of the four Atlantic Basin continents, but the movement toward environmentally beneficial electrification will inexorably proceed forward.

The Democratization of Energy

We are witnessing today the beginnings of a global energy cooperative network that is working toward the implementation of environmentally beneficial electrification by focusing on advances in renewable energy and integration of renewables into the grid from a consumer ownership perspective.  This represents a significant new direction in the concept of energy ownership by consumers.  The cooperative business model, well known throughout the world and globally represented by the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), an organization established in 1895, is increasingly of interest to consumers who wish to own and control energy systems – hence the “democratization” of energy.  With specific reference to the Atlantic Basin, energy cooperative growth is occurring on all four continents.

In the United States, there are 900 distribution as well as generation and transmission cooperatives making significant advances in this arena with a special emphasis on community solar and community storage programs. Those cooperatives are supported by an extensive, sophisticated cooperative network for capital financing, insurance, research and development, power marketing, information technology, materials supply and back office support.  In regard to renewable energy development, the most advanced program is located on the island of Kauai in the state of Hawaii.  Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) is deploying large solar arrays backed by Tesla storage systems to eventually eliminate diesel generation.

Electric cooperatives throughout Latin American and the Caribbean have projects underway.  The largest electric cooperative in the world, Cooperativa Rural Electrificación (CRE), headquartered in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, serves almost 500,000 consumers and is deploying large solar arrays.  Costa Rica has four electric cooperatives primarily generating electricity from hydropower and solar power.  Argentina has over 500 electric cooperatives, many of whom are pursuing renewable projects.  In the Caribbean, Cuba is developing biofuels for use in electrical generation and is pursuing the development of cooperatives as a matter of government policy.

The past ten years has seen the emergence of European renewable energy cooperatives, many of who are now participating in REScoop, a cooperative with 1240 members and 650,000 consumers.  Among its members are the cooperative association Germany, DGRV, with 850 co-ops serving 150,000 consumers; Enercoop of France, with 10 co-ops serving 23,000 consumers; and Cooperative Energy of Great Britain, serving 250,000 consumers.  Brussels, Belgium is the new headquarters of the Alliance for Rural Electrification with members across the Atlantic Basin, including NRECA.

U.S. electric cooperatives and German energy cooperatives have recently established the Trans-Atlantic Energy Cooperative Alliance to share information and best practices.  Discussions are underway to include Latin American energy cooperatives as well.

What is the attractiveness of the cooperative model to today’s energy consumer?

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Martin Lowery (summary)

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