A – Origin of the term “Energiewende”

In the 1970s, the term "Energiewende" was born in an attempt by opponents of nuclear power to show that an alternative energy supply was possible.

The term “Energiewende” (which we translate here as “energy transition”) did not just come about in the past few years. In fact, it was coined in a 1980 study by Germany’s Institute for Applied Ecology.

That groundbreaking publication was perhaps the first to argue that economic growth is possible with lower energy consumption – a theme later taken up in many books, such as Factor 4 from 1998. Previous publications, such as Limits to Growth (1972), mainly consisted of warnings without proposing specific solutions. The Energiewende was one of the first attempts to propose a holistic solution, and it consisted of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Published as a book in 1982, Energiewende’s subtitle is “Growth and Prosperity Without Oil and Uranium.”

energytransition - image: Peace Prize Club de Rome 1973

Club of Rome gets the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade Club for “The Limits of Groth”, 1973
Source: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild F-F041173-0013 / Photo: Reineke, Engelbert / October 14, 1973,  License: CC-BY-SA

The Institute of Applied Ecology had itself only just been founded with funding not only from environmental organizations (such as Friends of the Earth), but also from a Protestant organization that funded research. To this day, conservation and conservatism remain closely related in Germany, and this connection means that conservative politicians in Germany cannot be assumed to oppose renewables, as is the case elsewhere. On the contrary, a number of prominent proponents of renewables are members of the Christian Democrats (CDU), such as Peter Ahmels, who headed the German Wind Energy Association (BWE) for eleven years.

Another good example is German solar activist Wolf von Fabeck, who helped institute the first feed-in tariffs in Germany in his town of Aachen in the late 1980s. A former military officer, von Fabeck became an environmentalist when he saw the effects of acid rain brought about by coal plant emissions, and he became a proponent of solar when he realized the impossibility of protecting nuclear power plants from military attack. The first meetings he held about solar power took place at his local church, and his pastor was his main associate in the beginning. Other examples include Franz Alt, author of Der ökologische Jesus (The Ecological Jesus). A number of modern churches in Germany have solar roofs.

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